It’s inevitable. Some girls will be homesick in their first weeks at seminary. It’s not about the program, it’s not about the girl. It just is. And it’s very common.
Leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of home and sense of family support is not always easy. The sense of melancholy that comes from longing for family can be overwhelming for some people. Feelings of anxiety, isolation and loneliness are very commonm, writes Dr. Michael Salamon in the Jewish Week.
Homesickness is most likely to strike a child in Israel between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot. This is the first time that a child is away from their family for a major holiday and the transition from known family traditions to the unknown or unclear expectations of yeshiva or seminary may seem just a bit overwhelming.
So what might a parent do to help her daughter?
Students should be encouraged to speak with anyone on the staff that she feels comfortable with – administration, dorm mother, madrichot.
According to an article on CNN.com, homesickness isn’t about missing home. “Instead, it stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security – feelings and qualities usually associated with home,” according to a clinical psychologist quoted in the article. “When these qualities aren’t present in a new environment, we begin to long for them – and hence home.”
This homesickness is normal and helps your student adapt to new surroundings. The emotions of homesickness usually come in waves, and while the worst cases can have symptoms similar to clinical anxiety or depression, there are several things parents can do to help students when these waves hit.
• Let them. Allow your student to struggle through the first few weeks – or months – of [college]. Students who experience strong homesickness at first are stronger after it passes. Next time those emotions sweep in, students who have already been homesick will know that they can get through it, and the feelings are not so burdensome. On the other hand, if you buy your student a plane ticket to come home for the weekend or you go spend the day with him/her, that will be the coping mechanism he/she will rely on when homesickness hits again.
• Give space. Instead of being available for your student to call or text at any time, set aside time to contact your student once a week. This will give your student independence and encourage him/her to reach out to friends and peers for support.
• Talk it out. When you do talk to your student, ask how he/she is feeling, dealing with the change and adapting to a new lifestyle at college. If he/she shares feelings of homesickness, make sure to emphasize that it’s normal and others are experiencing the same. If it sounds like the homesickness is debilitating and affecting your student’s ability to eat, sleep, make friends or go to class, encourage a trip to the counseling center on campus. Most campuses promote their counseling services at orientation or on their website.
• Understand the cause. Homesickness occurs because everyone needs to belong and be attached to others in a community. When your student joins an entirely new community, it will take time to form relationships and identify his/her role. Homesickness during this time is expected. Parents who remind their students that they’re loved, supported and encouraged -even from afar – will build their children’s confidence to establish their place at school.
For most children, homesickness is mild. For all children, overcoming homesickness is an important step in emotional maturation. Encourage your child, add to their confidence and build their sense of self, and they will grow in maturity and wisdom.