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Dealing with homesickness at university

Written by Master of Occupational Therapy  (CRICOS 106625H) student Matilda Young.

Moving away from home for university is a big transition, whether you come from the other side of the world or just an hour down the road. If you have experienced, or are experiencing homesickness, you’re definitely not the only one.

There’s an expectation that your time at university will be the ‘best years of your life’, so it can feel overwhelming, confusing and difficult if your experience just doesn’t start out that way.

Homesickness can strike at any time, but it’s often worse during your first couple of weeks at university, or at times when you feel like you’re missing out on something – whether that’s your brother’s birthday, a big family dinner or simply a cuddle from your dog. Homesickness also often rears its ugly head not long after you return from a visit home. The first semester is usually the hardest, but some students might breeze through this time only to be hit with homesickness in their second or third semester away.

If you’ve just arrived on campus or are finding this to be a tough period of time – wherever you are in your uni journey – here are a few tips and tricks to call upon to make things a bit easier.

1. Go easy on yourself 

Feeling homesick does not equal weakness, nor is it something you should ever beat yourself up about. You’ll only make things worse if you think you should be feeling guilty about it, so take the pressure off and let yourself experience whatever emotions are flowing your way.

2. Know you’re not alone

Be comforted knowing that if you’re feeling homesick, there will be many other people on campus who are feeling or have felt the same way. Don’t be afraid to be honest with new friends or housemates – chances are they’ll be missing home too, and if they aren’t, they might be able to help or provide some words of wisdom.

Flip it around… if your friend confided in you about feeling homesick, wouldn’t you want to help them? We’re all in this university life together, especially with the tight-knit community here at Bond, and that means supporting those around us.

3. Don’t isolate yourself

Even though the thought of staying in your room night after night and eating that share pack of M&Ms might sound appealing, this will only exacerbate the feelings you’re having. Instead, put yourself out there – human interaction is often a homesickness cure, or at the very least, a salve when things feel really tough.

Try to get involved in the activities that are offered on campus. Even if you ‘make’ yourself go for an hour or two (and then come back for a couple of M&Ms), at least you’ve made an effort to engage with others. If this feels a little tough, you could ask a friend to go together, or accept an invitation from a new friend if that’s on the table.

Going out for a meal and a drink is fun and will take your mind off home – you’re sure to meet some new people as well. Bond offers lots of fun things to do both during the day and at night, starting in Orientation Week.

Matilda (third from left) and friends at a social netball game

4. Have a few things from home at the ready

This tip might feel a little obvious, but it’s surprising how powerful memories from home can be. A photo of family, friends or pets, a meaningful trinket or a soft toy could be the thing that brightens up your day and reminds you of home when you’re feeling far away.

5. Stay in touch however you can

A quick phone call, FaceTime or message with loved ones can be a wonderful pick-me-up. Don’t feel as if you need to allocate an hour to call home just because you’ve got lots to unpack – these have their place, but it’s equally as nice to pick up the phone for five minutes, and it can make a huge difference to both your day and theirs.

As great as social media is for keeping in touch, be mindful of Instagram stories or Snapchats from your friends back home who appear to be having the time of their lives. Social media doesn’t always tell the whole story – no one is going to post about sitting alone at lunch or getting lost on their way to class. Think about how you curate your online ‘highlight reel’ and you’ll realise that everyone else is likely doing the same thing.

6. Book a trip home

It can be tempting to run right back home at the first sign of trouble, but this isn’t always the best idea. For at least your first few weeks of university, try to embrace your new way of life and put yourself out there if you feel up to it. Make a solid effort to give things a go – you’ll never know what could happen! But, after you’re feeling a bit more settled, there’s no harm in booking a trip home if you’re able to travel safely and quickly. You’ll really appreciate being able to reconnect with family, friends and your hometown, and will return to uni in a better mindset.

7. Stay busy – and positive!

This can be easier said than done, but having a positive attitude will help you combat homesickness in a big way! Plan things out in your day to look forward to, whether that’s meeting a friend for lunch, going for a swim in the pool or watching your favourite TV show to unwind at the end of the day. It’ll all help, and being busy will leave less room for your mind to wander to the things or people you’re missing.

Surrounding yourself with friends, getting involved and staying busy are some of Matilda's tips for beating homesickness

8. Get to know your surroundings

Part of the reason you might feel so homesick is because you’re surrounded by new, unfamiliar things. Thankfully, this is an easy feeling to eliminate. Set aside some time – maybe an hour a day – to go exploring, whether that’s wandering around campus, going for a browse at the local shopping centre, finding a nearby park or trying a new spot for lunch. You’ll get to know your campus and the city you’re living in, and slowly you’ll start to recognise familiar faces and the day-to-day happenings in your area. This will really help you to feel like you’re part of your new home.

9. Stay healthy

When you’re feeling flat, it can be easy to just sit on your bed, eat junk and do very little, but this is a recipe for a worse mood, not a better one! Focus on your health by adding little activities and elements into your day until you build up a sustainable routine.

Eat healthy, exercise, get lots of sleep – even if you have to force yourself for a while, it’ll slowly become a habit, and can make a huge difference in your life both when you’re homesick and in general.

10. Ask for help

If your emotions are becoming so overwhelming that you can’t settle into your studies and uni life, then it might be time to ask for help. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – don’t feel ashamed, but rather, be proud that you’re able to recognise your limitations. None of us are superhuman!

Talk to your housemates, friends or teachers about your concerns. As mentioned, chances are they’ve been through the same thing at some point in their lives, and will be ready to support you or help you to find the support you need. Taking care of yourself is so important, and you are not alone.  

For a professional perspective, Bond has psychologists on campus who provide free, confidential counselling to help with anything from study pressures and homesickness, to personal matters.

Ultimately, homesickness is – for most people – a temporary state that becomes better with time, new friendships, memories and developing a familiarity with your new home. One day you’ll wake up and realise that you haven’t felt that way in a long time, but until then, use these tips to make things feel a little easier.

If you or someone you know is experiencing severe homesickness, reach out for help by making a free appointment with Bond’s on campus counsellors, or getting support via a number of online services. Beyond Blue is an Australian organisation devoted to providing information and support for anyone struggling with their mental health – call, email or chat online with them today.

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