Embrace the distance: Navigating homesickness as a college freshman

The enrollment deposit to Boston University may have been a couple of hundred dollars, but the thrilling idea of going to school 1,000 miles away from home was priceless. I spent my entire life in the suburbs of Chicago, and while I loved my hometown, I knew I was ready to get outside the bubble of Glen Ellyn, Ill. and experience a completely new place in college. 

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

However, an uneasy knot formed in my stomach almost as soon as I threw my cap in the air at my high school graduation and realized the reality of my college choice. 

Was I ready to move away from home? Could I handle being in an unknown city without family nearby? Am I strong enough to get through the hard times by myself?

These seeds of doubt followed me all summer as I prepared for college. While I was eager and extremely grateful to experience the next chapter in my life in a new environment, I was terrified of the amount of change I’d be experiencing. 

Amidst the whirlwind of emotions I felt as I packed up my bedroom, I reminded myself why I chose BU in the first place. While the academics and bustling city life were enticing, I knew I wanted to challenge myself and grow out of my comfort zone in ways that were impossible at home. 

So, on move-in day, after I said tearful goodbyes to my family, I did exactly that — I challenged myself. I introduced myself to my neighbors on the floor of my dorm, got involved in an outrageous amount of clubs and threw myself into my schoolwork. 

However, throughout my first semester, the feelings of homesickness I thought would subside never left me. 

Though I was kept extremely busy with my classes and social life, I still had persistent, nagging feelings of sadness and anxiety. I knew that homesickness was a common experience during the first semester of college, but I did not expect it to impact me as much as and for as long as it did.  

My first semester flew by, and after winter break, I found myself dreading the trip back to school. I was worried that my negative feelings and homesickness would continue to affect my day-to-day life and prevent me from enjoying college.

Trying to combat these emotions, I surrounded myself with the people I felt the happiest with. Spending time with friends who understood my feelings and allowed me to repeatedly express or cry about them was an outlet that I was extremely grateful to have. It also was a really important factor when it came to strengthening my friendships with them. 

Beyond connecting with the people around me, I made a conscious effort to stay connected to my family and friends back home. Scheduling weekly, or even daily, calls at set times gave me something to look forward to and extra motivation to power through the day. That small moment alleviated my loneliness and feelings of disconnect from life back at home.  

Coming back home for spring break and leaving at the end of the break was an extremely difficult, but full circle moment for me. 

While sitting at the Chicago Midway Airport, I realized that I had almost gotten through a full year of college. In harsher words, I was a quarter of the way. Although my vulnerable moments in college felt like they plagued my overall experience in the moment and I undoubtedly felt negative emotions almost every day, they only took up a certain amount of minutes or hours. Each day had at least a few moments of happiness and times where I cherished college in an unfamiliar place. 

Boarding the plane back to Boston, I made a mental note to myself to keep the positive experiences I had each day — laughing with the girls on my floor, unexpectedly running into friends in the dining hall, trying a new type of bagel each time I went to Pavement — in my mind whenever I felt that my homesickness was too much. Regardless of my longing for familiarity, it was these simple joys that reminded me why I embarked on this journey in the first place. 

As I reach the final six weeks of my freshman year of college after spring break, I now understand that while leaving family and friends at the end of each break is hard — and will undoubtedly get harder — it’s a significant part of the college experience that is a testament to my independent growth and strength. 

Each time I return to my hometown, I’m reminded of the comfort and familiarity it offers, but I also recognize the importance of returning to Boston, growing independently and continuing my journey at BU. 

Homesickness and anxiety in college are normal experiences for college freshmen — and sophomores, juniors and seniors — to have.  Feeling uncomfortable, anxious and uncertain in a new place is natural, and all transitions will have bumps in the road. 

But, it’s difficult to navigate those bumps in the road without recognizing that adjusting to a new environment takes time and all students will feel a range of emotions during such a heavy transition period. I wish I had given myself more leeway in these feelings, and understood that transition takes time and patience. 

I want to advise incoming freshmen to give themselves permission to feel any emotions they experience — whether it be sadness, anxiety, anger or regret —and understand that it’s all part of the process when it comes to navigating a new, unfamiliar experience. 

Everyone’s college transition journey is unique, and there’s no right or wrong way to work through it. Be patient with yourself, take time to process your feelings and trust that with time, you’ll settle into your new surroundings and begin to feel more comfortable. There is no right or wrong amount of time to take when adjusting to college life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek support from your family and friends. 

Embrace the challenges and opportunities that come during this new chapter of your life — and above all, be kind to yourself during this exhilarating, yet daunting transition.

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