Homesickness is a broad topic to describe the feeling that most, if not all, first-year college students will experience at some point during their year. It’s something that, I believe, has a stigma associated to it; maybe it’s because no one wants others to know that they are struggling, or that they don’t want to face their emotions and feelings. I experienced my fair share of homesickness as a freshman, as I’m sure my peers did as well. I’d like to share a little bit about what that looked like for me, as well as how I combated it.
I’d like to begin by clearing up what I define as “homesickness.” Many think of this term as extreme difficulty with leaving home, and being associated with anxiety, depression, tears, and fear of what’s to come. These are all concepts that I would consider to fit under the “category” of homesickness, but I believe it to be much more than that as well. Homesickness, in my opinion, is any type of difficulty in transitioning and adjusting from a previous, comfortable lifestyle. College homesickness, especially, is unique in that it can be as minor as missing your family and friends from home as you learn to love your new life on the bluff, or as major as not wanting to leave your dorm room due to the emotions you are feeling. Everyone adjusts differently and at their own pace, so this can look a little different for everyone.
I saw it all during my first year; friends who barely ate for 2 weeks because they felt sick to their stomach about leaving home, and friends who appeared to have no issues with the transition. I fell somewhere in between that range; but what was unique about my case of homesickness is that it didn’t set in until a few months into the semester. I had little to no issues with the initial adjustment; in fact, I loved my new life at UP. I enjoyed every moment of new learning, independence, and new friendships. In fact, I was the “helper” friend, in many cases, trying to assist in my friends’ homesickness and helping them to adjust.
I settled in, found a solid group of girls, and was so happy and content with the life that I was living. It wasn’t until after fall break that I started struggling with homesickness myself. And, if you didn’t know me or weren’t close to me, you probably wouldn’t have even known. I think what pushed this onset of emotions was going home for break, and then having to return back to school. What I wished I had remembered then that I know now is that those feelings were completely normal, and I wish I would’ve spoken up about them instead of letting them reside inside of me. I would tell my friends “Oh yeah, I’m so excited to go home for Thanksgiving, it’s definitely much needed right now,” or “I miss my mom and sister a little extra today,” but to be honest, I’m not sure if anyone knew the capacity of homesickness that I was experiencing.
The best way that I can describe my homesickness is the difficulty in transition. It’s almost as if the “new life” I was experiencing felt only temporary, and that things would return back to normal after a month or two. Upon my return after break, reality had set in, and I personally dealt with the adjustment of the new lifestyle. School work was picking up, I was still learning which friendships would stick, and circumstances, in general, weren’t the best that they could’ve been. I think this immensely contributed to how I was feeling. I thought my mistake was letting myself feel this way; when really, my mistake was not opening up and sharing with others how I was feeling. Looking back on this, I think that really could’ve saved me from the lasting effects that homesickness had on me.
So, I finished finals on a Wednesday, and was on a bus back to Seattle that same evening. I was relieved to be done with the semester, and get to return home for four weeks before coming back to school. I felt good; stress-free and excited to spend so much time with my family. This didn’t seem like an issue at the time; why would there be a problem with being happy? It wasn’t until my return back to school in mid-January that I had reached such a build-up with my emotions that I could not hold it in anymore. I can’t remember a time I have cried as much as I did on the day I made the journey back to school. Luckily, I was with my roommate who was one of my closest friends, so that was extremely comforting. I genuinely did not know and continue to be at a loss for words to describe how I was feeling. I absolutely loved UP, but I loved my home, too. It’s almost like balancing two separate lives, and it can be really challenging sometimes.
However, I think opening up about how I was feeling saved me. Second semester was one of the best, most growing experiences I’ve undergone in my life. I found a solidified circle of friends who supported each other through all of our ups and downs. I grew in my independence, reached out and made new relationships and friends, and stepped out of my comfort zone. In fact, when spring and Easter breaks rolled around, I found myself not even wanting to go home! When I returned home for summer, I felt like a completely changed person.
I’d like to wrap up my discussion of my personal experience of homesickness by briefly summing up some ways that I (eventually) dealt with my homesickness. The first one, obviously, was opening up to my friends and family about how I was feeling. It reinforced to me that I was not alone in how I felt, and that I had people to support me to get where I eventually wanted to be. The other thing I would suggest, although it may seem a little obvious, is to keep yourself busy and in a routine! Go to class, study, hang out with your friends, and certainly continue the things you do that make you happy. For me that was running and listening to/discovering new music. This brought me a lot of happiness, while giving me a study break, and kept me in a routine. It’s going to take time to truly adjust to a new lifestyle as an adult here. That is okay. Give yourself the time you need and try not to be too hard on yourself. Confide in the people in your life that love you; that’s why they’re here..to support you through your ups and downs!
So here I am today, in the middle of June, back in the city that became home to me – Portland. I did return to Seattle pretty immediately after second semester finals were over, but only for about 3 weeks before I came back to Portland for the summer. As much as this place became a home for me, I felt as if I almost was starting over in this whole “adjustment thing.” I was moving into a new house, starting two new jobs and a volunteer-ship, and moving away from my hometown when all of my friends were just getting back from their schools. I also hadn’t seen my family for an extended period of time in so long, so getting to spend 3 weeks with them and then being pulled away from that was difficult. Despite all of these feelings, I wouldn’t say I was experiencing “homesickness,” rather, facing the challenges of balancing Portland-life with Seattle-life. It was through this initial adjustment that I had found that home is not one place; in fact, it’s not a place at all. Home is whatever you define it to be. Home to me is my family. It’s my friends – friends back home, and friends here in Portland. It’s the people in your life that you cherish and love more than they could ever know, and that share that same love for you. When I came to the realization that I did not have to designate one place as “home,” my emotions and feelings started to make a little bit more sense to me. I was never leaving or returning home — just going back and forth between two homes 😊.