“I just want to lay in my bed, and I can’t get up”. “My belly hurts and I can’t eat properly”. “I feel empty inside”. “Sometimes it suddenly attacks me in daily life when I’m not alerted to it at all”. “It makes me cry”. “And if it is there, I lose all my motivation”. “I am running around and feel like I have swallowed a baseball that gets stuck inside my chest”. I am sure most students have already experienced these or similar “symptoms” because they are indications of maybe the most normal sickness in the world: homesickness.
These are all real quotations from people between 20 and 30 years of age but for all of them, it took quite a while to put their feelings of homesickness into words. Everyone started with “standard” answers when I asked them about their perception of homesickness, such as, “it is the feeling when I am away from home”, “I feel a little bit sad”, and so on. Homesickness is a sensitive topic, especially for students because most of them are moved out and feel like they are finally independent adults who can control their own lives. Homesickness is often seen as a sign of weakness, and it is embarrassing to admit having a yearning towards home, parents, and friends.
However, as the headline of this article already states, homesickness is one of the most normal sicknesses in the world. It can be directed towards a place, for example, the little village with the parents’ house, or can be equally directed towards persons, for example, the boyfriend or the girlfriend. International students might be especially prone to be “infected” with homesickness due to the often very long distances to their home and other things they love and value. However, I am convinced that homesickness can infect everyone independent from age, gender, or life experience.
I wouldn’t call myself an expert or “doctor” for homesickness but I moved out of my parents’ house when I was thirteen to go to boarding school, and this helped me to develop some “remedies” to treat homesickness:
1. Creating a second little home around you
Homesickness is all about missing home. The home usually means a familiar environment that conveys a feeling of trust, comfort and security, and thus, it is useful to design your new residence in a way that makes it similar to or reminds you of your environment back home. For example, using the bed linen that you already used back home (and don’t be ashamed about your old teddy and take it with you; I bet we all have one from our children’s days ;)), taking your favourite books with you or pinning photos on your walls that already hang in your room at your parents’ house.
2. Phoning to fight loneliness
Being separated from home and loved people is almost always connected to the feeling of loneliness. I am really not a person with the endurance and patience for phoning for hours but I discovered that hearing the voice from a loved person, and even if it is just for a few minutes, can cure acute symptoms of homesickness. And arranging a call with an old friend from school you still have loose contact with can also really distract from sad thoughts.
3. Good old-fashioned post surprises
Receiving a package or a letter from home can be real soul food. The content can be literally food: ask your parents to send you a package with your favourite sweets (sugar is usually a panacea), little gifts, or some stuff that you forgot at your last visit back home. I am sure everyone likes the feeling to be surprised by a package or letter on the doorstep, so it might worth a try to fight homesickness symptoms.
4. Daily life “meets and greets”
A very efficient way to reduce feelings of missing familiar people is to become familiar with the new people around you. That doesn’t mean to neglect or forget old friends at home. It means next to keeping contact with the people back home, adding new contacts from your new home. Of course, that is kind of difficult in times of Corona, in which social contacts must be reduced to a minimum; however, you can start with your own household. Invite your housemates to a card game, to watch a movie, to bake a cake (again the panacea effect of sweets) or just to talk about studies, home countries or hobbies.
5. Zoom and Skype
To keep up the contact with friends and family back home, video calls can really convey the feeling of being close to each other. You can teach your parents or grandparents how to use Zoom and Skype, and usually, they will be overjoyed by the “possibilities of the technologies these days” and to see your face. You can meet up with friends, and it is also possible to play games live and online together (many of them can easily be turned into drinking games but I don’t want to animate anyone to drink alcohol, so you don`t have this tip from me ;)).
6. Pets and plants
Due to social distancing requirements and the fact that new friends are not always present if you suddenly feel homesick, pets or plants can be emotional support too. Of course, you have to check whether pets are allowed in your residence to avoid trouble. However, cats, hamsters, or even fish can also be partners to talk to. You might not believe it but also the presence of plants, which must be nurtured when they share your home, can really have something solacing. I mean, when I moved out in 2014, my parents gave me a cactus which I called Evangeline, and it is still living on my ledge in The Hague.
I hope that at least one of these small tips and tricks can help you to feel better when you are not at home and feel some homesickness coming. Maybe you will develop your own strategies to deal with it and reduce or even eliminate homesickness. However, don’t be ashamed if it never disappears completely, and always remember, it is the most normal sickness in the world.