Homesickness Explained

Homesickness Explained - By: Nick Novosilec

Introduction to Homesickness

The concept of homesickness is nothing new to the world of today, hundreds even thousands of people experience it everyday. Homesickness is defined as the distress or impairment that is caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home. Some people anticipate this at an early age such as the first time going to a sleepover but for many it really kicks in the first time young students go off to college for the first time. It's important to college student nowadays because of the fact that people that are in college are from many different places around the world and it's really the first time that they are living away from home for long periods of time and for some it is an easy transfer to adulthood but for others it's a much harder experience because of the fact that it's a completely new experience for them. In time things can become easier for the students but sometimes it's just too much. The first couple of months is usually when the student experiences homesickness and some symptoms may arise from it as well as other things such as anxiety, depression, loss of interest and other symptoms. But the only way that homesickness can be helped is by having the student know first off that it's completely normal to have homesickness, there is help and they don't have to do it alone.


I. Background information: origins of homesickness

II. Diagnosis, symptoms, and stages

III. Statistics and case studies

IV. Risks and protective factors

V. Coping Mechanisms

I. Background Information: Origins of Homesickness

Homesickness is endured by millions of people everyday but not many of those people have had the courage of openly talking about the concept of missing home, sometimes society has thought of homesickness as being a taboo among people. But the earlier generations didn't have so much of a problem with expressing their missing of home. When mass migrations to the Americas occurred in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds, immigrants from the European nations and Africans who were forced to leave their homes and travel to the Americas spoke very openly of their pain. In 1688, a Swiss doctor by the name of Johannes Hoferus came up with the term nostalgia, which didn't exist before then. He made it up and used this term to describe the what he called "acute homesickness." In today's time the word used to describe a longing for a lost time but originally meant a longing for a lost home where people longed to return to.

Hoferus, as well as future generation physicians, eventually determined that homesickness was no longer just a standard of emotion, but an actual physical condition. It was thought that some of the symptoms that resulted from homesickness included lesions across the body, fever, heart palpitations, incontinence, and other symptoms. The only known cure for this "condition" was for those who were diagnosed with the physical condition to return home. Failing to do so resulted in death and many government files and government journals recorded people falling victim to nostalgia, which people took very seriously during the time. Ultimately, it was found that about one sixth of the puritans who arrived at New England, returned back to Old England. This was also commonly found by other immigrants colonizing in other territories such as the French settling in the Canadian regions. Later in the 19th Century, when settlers had gone out east with their families in search for opportunities, it was very common to see many of those settlers returning back to the east due to the longing of missed places. And even those who had stayed in the west also shared emotions of missed places.

But many of these people had tried to cope with being away from home by bringing along things that would remind them of home. Many in the west would build houses that mimicked the architecture that was found back east. Some would bring vegetation such as flowers and plant them in their gardens just so they would have something the be reminded of home. Eventually, homesickness escalated to the point where it was a recognized problem. Government bodies in the 19th Century had gone so far as to craft policies that would deal with the matter. For example, in Canada the army had banned bag pipe music due to the fact that it made the Scottish recruits feel desolate and ultimately made them combat ineffective. In a similar case in the United States, the Union army banned the most commonly heard song in America which during the time was "Home Sweet Home." According to the U.S. Surgeon General at the time, a total of seventy four soldiers had apparently died from nostalgia and over five thousand other soldier were warranted for medical attention. Many men received a discharge, since the only known cure at the time was in fact to return home.

Throughout the rest of the 19th Century and even into the early 20th Century, doctors continued to diagnose cases of nostalgia and the general public regarded the cases with tolerance, empathy, and patience. However the 20th Century proved to change things dramatically which eventually resulted in the attitude of frowning upon homesickness. With certain countries escalating into superpowers, companies began to rise to power, the military began to expand their reach and eventually homesickness was seen as an obstacle. During World War I, homesickness was regarded very negatively and eventually child psychologist told parents to prepare their children with a life of mobility and separation which would minimize emotional attachment. During the 1950's many parents were told to refrain from not allowing their children to wander far from home or to keep them close because it was thought that parents weren't allowing sons to help fight the communists, endangering the health of the nation.

Eventually parents did get over the fact that they should allow more freedom and less emotional affection. They learned to speak less openly about it fore they would fear of being labeled negatively by society. From then on, children have been taught in schools with the use of friendly story books to not be homesick so that eventually it would be placing a positive standard on interchangeability and encourage mobility. Thus, to this day as adults, homesickness has been thought of in some negative aspects because it would show a sign of immaturity and lack of ambition. But in many cases homesickness is very visible in peoples' daily lives. Because of advanced technology, people have learned to cope with homesickness but nonetheless it still exists.

II. Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Stages

Homesickness occurs to some degree in nearly everyone who leaves a familiar surrounding and enters a new environment. Research has confirmed that homesickness is a significant source of impairment and distress for young people, especially those who go off to summer camps, distant schools, and those who are kept in a certain place away from home for long periods of time (pediatrics). College students have been proven to be those who experience homesickness the greatest, especially international students. After the novelty of new surroundings wear off, which is usually by the third week, homesickness starts to kick in and result in a different attitude about leaving home (CNN). While this is the case for many college students, few students say that it affects their studies. The 2008 American College Health Association's national survey of college students found that homesickness was a minor factor - just 4.2% - when it came to their overall academic performance. But nonetheless when one does experience homesickness some of the warning signs include:
- Constantly thinking about home
- Anxiety
- Decreased Motivation
- Feeling different from others who seem to be having a good time
- Irritability
- Loneliness
- Missing the people, things, and places associated with home
- Sadness
- Social withdrawal
- Wishing for a connection with someone who will make everything feel better

Some of these signs could be confused with depression, which needs to be addressed because it is important to not get the two mixed up. College students who are homesick will go home and find that their negative feelings have been lifted. But a person who is depressed won't experience this type of relief whether they go home for a few days or get involved in a favorite activity (College and Homesickness).

The Stages of Homesickness.
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Fig.1: "Stages of Homesickness" Taken from Google images.

III. Statistics and case studies

Many different colleges across the United States have shown a statistical value which shows the count on students' experiences on campus as well as how they feel about being there. In regards to Coe College, which is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about 49% of the students are from other states. The most common states of residence include Colorado, Foreign Countries, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Among all the students, the international students only count for 3%. Even though this is such a small number, it can be said that these students experience the most homesickness seeing as they have traveled far from home to be on this very accepting campus. This isn't to say that the other students don't feel homesickness. Among that three percent, it seems that most of the international students come from the Asian countries like Japan. With personal statistics, it was found that all the Asian students have experienced homesickness but what helped out the most with coping the difference was finding a close knit community that was very accepting. Another plus was that they found other people of the same descent which helped remind each other of home and made the transition a much easier process. For many of the interviewed students, it seemed that the graph below depicted a good deal of their experience in the United States. At the Coe College campus, these student have the opportunity to join an international club which is among the few clubs that is active. All of the international students at Coe are members of this club. This international club takes students on a four-day vacation to other states during the fall semester every year. It also organizes different cultural activities, including the International Banquet and the Cultural Show.

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Fig. 2: "How Most Students Experience The Early Days of Life in a Foreign Country" Taken from Google Images.

IV. Risks and protective factors

The risk factors for homesickness fall into four different categories: experience, personality, family, and attitude. More is known about some of these factors in adults and more homesickness research has been performed in older populations but much of the information provided can be applied to the younger populations like college students.

Experience Factors

In studies of children at summer camps and boarding schools, the experience factors most predictive of homesickness are little previous experience away from home, little or no previous experience at the school or camp, and young age. Age is usually a proxy for experience which is the more powerful predictor. For example, and eight year old child with lots of experience away from home has less of a chance becoming homesick at summer camp than a twelve year old with very little experience away from home. This is also applicable to the preparation of teens who would soon be going off to college in another state. Experience is probably the most valuable factor when it refines coping strategies. But when it came to the study of hospitalized children, previous experience away from home did not function as a protective factor. This suggests that the types of previous separation experiences shape expectations of future separations. If early separation experiences are negative, such in the case with being placed in a foster home or traumatic hospitalizations, then it can be expected that future separations may be negative, which would then cause homesickness.

Attitude Factors

The belief that homesickness will be strong, coupled with low expectations and negative first impressions for a new environment, can be a powerful predictor of homesickness. In some ways, expectations of intense homesickness and perceived negative experiences become self-fulfilling prophecies. A perceived absence of social support was a strong predictor of homesickness when it came to a study of college freshmen. As previously mentioned, a child's history of time spent away from home became a huge factor in shaping his or her attitude. When it came to a study of boys between the ages of eight and sixteen spending two weeks at camp, a combination of little previous experience away from home, low perceived control, negative attitudes about the separation, and high expectations of homesickness, this all accounted for nearly seventy percent of the variance in the actual intensity of the boys' homesickness. Attitude about the whole situation has proven to be a huge determining factor for children down the road.

Personality Factors

When there is an insecure attachment relationship between the child and the primary caregivers, it tends to be the most common risk factor associated with homesickness. In particular, children and adolescents with an "anxious-ambivalent" attachment style are more likely to experience significant distress on separation from home. These young people are unsure about how reliably positive their primary caregivers will respond when showing levels of distress. They may also have mixed feelings about how worthy they are of other people's attention and love. With this uncertainty, it can promote great distress in new social settings with surrogate caregivers. But on the other hand, secure attachment is associated with independence, a tendency to explore, and sold social skills, all of which help young people adjust to new environments. But other personality factors such as low perceived control (over life in general or the separation itself) and anxious/depressed feelings in the months before a separation increase the risk of homesickness. In both younger and older adults, low self-directness, high harm avoidance, rigidity, and a wishful-thinking coping style all predict homesickness, however it is unclear whether these traits can be extrapolated downward to children and younger adolescents.

Family Factors

The family factor can cause a predictive factor in homesickness in the way of low "decision control." This means when parents force a young person to spend time away, that child or adolescent feels very little decision control. Consequently, this person feels more likely to feel homesick when separated. Other family factors that are weaker predictors of homesickness include caregivers who express anxiety or ambivalence about the separation as well as the presence of an unresolved negative life event such in the case of a close family member becoming gravely ill. It's plausible that if children have had a chance to process the emotions and thoughts associated with a recent negative life event, they will have a better chance in coping with homesickness should they experience it.

V. Coping Mechanisms

Homesickness is never a permanent condition and there are many different ways to cope with it. One of the most important things to realize is that homesickness is a natural feeling and there are other people who are in the exact same situation as you. One of the best ways to do deal with it is preparation, spending time away from home for short periods of time very well increases the likelihood of a better transition when it comes to separations that span for longer periods of time such as going away for college (NBC). But there are also a lot of other ways:

Bring a piece of home with you. There is nothing better that eases homesickness than a few mementos of home and loved ones. Something like small photographs of loved ones - family members, significant others, friends, pets. Maybe there is something like a painting that could remind you of home or a certain bag or necklace that belonged to someone very close to you.

Stay in touch. Keeping in touch keeps home close to you and vice versa. There are ways to work around a time difference, but it's important to be sure to keep in touch with home base. Be sure to know what goes on back home like how you're little brother scored his first goal, or your mom had a good day at work, or maybe you're dog has the sniffles. All these can be achieved through a letter, chatting on the web through Facebook, or even a simple call will due.

Use technology. If you have a laptop, keep in touch with those "just thinking about you" e-mails, consider an instant messaging program like Facebook, or even a webcam for the face-to-face conversations on Skype.

There are also support groups that people can go to where they can talk to new people and possibly make some new friends. You don't have to go to an organized meeting with a leader of the group, it could be as simple as sitting next to someone new in the lunchroom or cheering on the team at a football game. Being in a religious group is another great way to meet new people who share the same view as yours. Homesickness is never permanent and there is no reason to deal with it alone.

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Fig. 3: "Support Groups" Taken from Google images

Works Cited

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News. (n.d.). Feeling homesick? Five remedies. // Retrieved December 4, 2013, from

Student Health Services. (n.d.). //College and Homesickness : Articles ://. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from

Thurber, C. A., & Walton, E. (n.d.). Student Health Services. //College and Homesickness : Articles ://. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from

Coe CollegeDiversity. (n.d.). //College Prowler//. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from

Ho, D. (2010, August 16). Homesickness isn't really about 'home'. //CNN//. Retrieved December 3, 2013, from

Longo, G. S. (2010). Religiousness.//Homesickness in college students the moderating effect of religiousness on the relationship between homesickness and maladjustment// (p. 8). Blacksburg, Va.: University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

TEDxTalks. 2013. A History of Homesickness: Susan Matt at TEDxWaterloo 2013. Retrieved from