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Oct 02 2016
by Annie Herr

Why Exactly Does Homesickness Happen?

By Annie Herr - Oct 02 2016
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The move from home to college is a jarring experience. Suddenly moving away from family, friends and even pets to a new, unfamiliar location is scary. Even now, after a month of living on campus, I still have moments when loneliness sets in and I yearn for my bed at home and hugs from my parents. I also have some friends who are constantly going home over weekends to go to football games and see their family. On the other hand, I have many friends who only feel a little homesick when I bring up missing my family. Otherwise, they don’t really think about home. So why does homesickness affect everyone in different ways?

What is homesickness exactly? 

Jessica Breadsell of the University of Melbourne characterizes homesickness as “feelings of longing for a place or person that can be accompanied by crying, stomach aches, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances and headaches.” Mark Leary, a professor at Duke University defines it as “a state of emotional distress that people sometimes experience when they are separated from supportive friends or family members in an unfamiliar environment...In many ways, it’s mostly loneliness combined with a sense of feeling out of place and wanting to return to familiar, supportive environments.” My own personal definition is pretty simple: homesickness is everything you feel in response to leaving a place or people that make up your comfort zone, including all the thoughts, emotions and physical symptoms you experience.

Why do humans get homesick? 

Leary explains that, “Unlike virtually every other animal, human beings do not have the natural defenses that would allow us to survive in the wild — no fangs or sharp teeth...The only way that human beings and our hominid ancestors survived was by living in cohesive social groups in which members cooperated with one another for food, defense, child care, and so on.” In simple terms, we feel homesick because we are made to be social beings that form special relationships with the people we care about and who keep us safe. We are programmed to miss those people who provide for us because it is part of what allows us throughout history to survive.  Homesickness is really a misnomer; it really is about missing people and the people who make home feel like home.

Homesickness can vary in degrees; for most people, it probably consists of mostly crying and maybe a few stomach aches. Think about it like the first time you went to a sleepover or an overnight camp. You may remember the drama of your parents leaving you there, with all the crying, not wanting to eat and not being able to sleep well in the unfamiliar place. After a few overnight stays away from home, it probably became easier to leave your parents. After a lot of overnights, you probably had to beg to get away from your parents! Going to college is like reliving that first overnight away from home, but with the experience of the years of overnights behind it. For some, it was immediately terrifying and they have coped with it by going home frequently. For others, it may have been a little frightening, but since they’ve had the experience before they are more excited to enjoy the freedoms of college and have not missed home.

In short, homesickness is a natural occurrence that everyone experiences at one time or another, in one way or another. For some people it hits more than others, and it is really okay to be super homesick or not at all! Eventually, we’ll feel homesick for our colleges, as we grow in our connections to the new people around us that make up our new homes.

Lead Image Credit: Deniz Fuchidzhiev via

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Annie Herr - Ohio University

EIC for FreshU Ohio University

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