At any age, moving across the country (or across the world) is both a hectic and exciting experience. Alongside all the excitement and anticipation of moving to a brand new place, people often experience sadness and apprehension when leaving home. Having a strong emotional connection to home, and the people and memories there, is special – but it can also make it very challenging to leave and start a new chapter of life. Homesickness is a natural part of adjusting to life in a new setting.
There are a plethora of complex emotions that students may feel when they relocate to begin life at boarding school or university. If this is their first time being away from home for long periods of time, it may be especially hard on your whole family when your child leaves. Even while you and your student are eager to begin this new chapter of life, homesickness often creeps in, making it difficult for you and your student to feel comfortable with this big lifestyle chance. If your child is feeling especially homesick, here are five tips that may help you both cope with this new adjustment.
Validate your child’s emotions
Homesickness is something that almost everyone has struggled with in their lives. As your child adjusts to their new atmosphere, chances are they will miss the familiarity of life at home. This feeling may manifest through a plethora of different emotions, and one of the best things you can do as a parent is to tell them that whatever they’re feeling is okay! When your student is feeling homesick, they may feel weak or embarrassed in the presence to some of their peers who may be more used to being away from home. Remind your student that homesickness is nothing to be ashamed of – this will help them to feel less isolated as they navigate both a new lifestyle and a new set of complex emotions.
Take advantage of the technology available to you
Remember, we live in the golden age of technology – use it! Even just a couple of decades ago, it was extremely difficult to internationally communicate in real-time. Now, we have these incredible technologies like Skype and WhatsApp to help us connect with people all over the world. When your child is feeling homesick, a quick phone call or video chat might help them feel closer to you. Seeing a familiar face and hearing your voice will remind them that you’re still there when they need you, despite their newfound independence.
Be careful, however, that you don’t overdo it. Of course, you want to be there for your child when they need you, to comfort and encourage them. It is important that you be available, but try not to distract them from what’s going on in their new space. While you may want to be in constant communication, be mindful of how this may hinder their involvement in the community. If your child is always talking to you, that means they are likely not making a conscious effort to acclimate to their new surroundings. Try to find the balance between being accessible and giving them space to try new things in their new home.
Encourage them to go out and get involved
Homesickness often manifests most strongly when students are feeling isolated, or when they don’t have other activities to take their mind off of missing home. Sometimes, all it takes to get rid of homesickness is a good distraction. Before they leave, you could make a list together of fun adventures to go on in their new location. If your child is feeling homesick upon arrival to their new home, encourage them to get out of their room and go do something! Exercising and being outside are two of the best ways that your child can naturally boost their mood. As they settle into their new space, encourage them to explore the surrounding areas with friends or roommates. Even if they just go for a walk outside or get dinner with some friends, it may take their mind off of home.
Send little reminders of home
Having mementos from home can really ease homesickness as your student settles into a new place. As they prepare to leave, be sure they pack some of their dearest treasures from home (photos, a favorite book, a blanket). Once they arrive at their new residence, it’s a great idea to send a care package or a letter on occasion. There’s nothing better than getting a surprise box in the mail filled with things from home. Try sending your child’s favorite foods or some small trinkets that might remind them of their home, their family, or their culture. Photos of family and friends or a handwritten note for your child to tack above their desk will serve as a daily visual reminder that you’re always there.
Give them something to look forward to
Plan visits or trips that you can both look forward to. Having a date on the calendar when your child will get to see their family and friends can be a great way to manage homesickness. It not only gives you a chance to see each other, but also gives your child a goal to reach. This will encourage them to push through the hard times so they can receive a super fun reward: seeing you! Even if you can’t plan a trip to see each other, encourage them to visit somewhere new for a weekend every once in a while with friends.
Combating homesickness at EF Academy
At EF Academy, there are lots of tools to help our students cope with their adjustment to boarding school. When new students arrive at EF Academy each year, whether in Oxford, Torbay, or New York, there is a special welcome program to help students acclimate to their new environments. This first week on campus is filled with all kinds of activities and learning opportunities to keep the students busy. Overloading their schedules with things like dances, sports and group games helps them to make friends and keep their minds on how much fun they’re having (instead of how much they miss home).
This continues throughout the year, as there are constant opportunities for students to engage in all kinds of activities when they’re not in class. The activities departments and on-campus staff work hard to plan intramural sports tournaments, trips to the movies, karaoke nights, and all kinds of other fun events. Having so many options of exciting things to participate in will help EF Academy students acclimate, get to know new people, and keep homesickness at bay.
One other major way the schools help to support students when they experience homesickness is through their caring and supportive team of residential advisors and house parents. They understand how difficult it can be to send a child to an unfamiliar place at such a young age. The excellent teams of advisors and adult mentors provide round-the-clock pastoral care to the students. Additionally, the guidance office, student success counselors and pathway managers are trained to help students cope with emotional challenges as they acclimate to their new home. Consistently being in touch with the people who make sure all EF Academy students are thriving helps to set the minds of parents at ease. When the students are experiencing homesickness or going through something tough, remember they have a constant support system surrounding them to ensure their emotional well-being.