My “rebellious” first year consisted of a lockdown on the East Coast, midday and midnight walks, meet-ups with my old school friends, and the odd cheeky drink. From a small town with a grand total of 4 bus routes, growing my independence was an undeniable and exhilarating experience in the busy city of Auckland.
I didn’t pick up on my need for quiet and alone time. These manifestations of intense homesickness disguised as “recharging”. Counterintuitive, right? I ended up starving myself of home for the sake of my education. Don’t get me wrong, I found kainga toru (whā? rima?) with Ngā Tauira Māori and new Uni mates – but these relationships couldn’t and can’t satisfy me in a way that chasing a chicken around the house could, the crashing waves of king tides at the beach 2 km away, or even passing five cars on the way home and thinking “Huh, rush hour.” It took me ages to figure out that my homesickness looked more like Moonrise Kingdom than Sixteen Candles, so let me tell you a bit about it so maybe you can help your friends and family, and even yourself.
Self-Diagnoses and Buzzfeed Quizzes
Overlaps describe ‘homesickness’ as a distressful reaction to the separation from the familiarity of “home” (1-5). Many researchers have tried to develop newer, cooler, and more hip ways of measuring homesickness. But, for all the science in the world, these brain teasers couldn’t quite get past the original format: a questionnaire (6). Sometimes, they even devised a remedy for it (we’ll dig into a couple soon). Still, throughout all these studies, those same scientists published their interpretations of what people considered homesick. You (yes, Y/N) are completely and totally correct in whatever you define as homesick. A+ to you!! P.S. No, Craccum cannot cross-credit this to round out your GPA).
Anti-Doppler Effect: Moving away from the source increases homesickness.
Nailing down causes of homesickness is about as easy as trying to organise single file lines at Shadz – difficult, slightly different each time, with “background noise”; but alas, I’ll try anyway! One way to view these is through 3 categories (1):
Demographics: This is the most controversial category—evidence for differential homesickness experiences in gender and age (1-3,6,8). Lastly, non-native individuals (1,3) and international students who entered a vastly different area were likely to develop ‘above normal’ homesickness levels.
Environmental Influence: This category refers to how close people feel to their “home”. Whether counting the kilometres or counting down the minutes on a phone plan, how freely people could access “home” was a risk factor for homesickness (1). Not to mention the subtle or overt stress from climatising to a new culture/s was also a key contributor (3,5,7,9-10).
Psychological Traits: This is basically your personality and how you interact with your environment. Psychological traits also include types and nature of relationships (3-4), attachment level and types to “home” and family (1,4,6,8), neuroticism (2,5-6), sense of belonging (1) and more factors than the Craccum word count can allow here.
So, what are we dealing with? In taking a good gander at the results section, homesickness looks like the cause and the catalyst of psychological problems. Ongoing studies are still trying to figure out this chicken-egg problem as to which came first: homesickness or other conditions (6). Either way, there’s still an association with these conditions below, and awareness of these can help you better identify your feelings:
- Lower academic performance, retention rates past first year, and GPA in the first semester (1,5).
- Depression (4-6).
- Anxiety and stress (1,2,5-7,9-12).
- Indirect exacerbation of existing or new health conditions (5).
- Self-isolation and poor social adjustment (2,4).
These are only results from a handful of case studies, and only some (if any) may resonate with you, and that’s okay! You are a mosaic of your life experiences, environment, and identity. There are no criteria for homesickness, and its impact on you is as unique as your fingerprints.
Vicks-ing You Up:
Homesickness is a genuine condition; its impact is unique, and the range of severity can be huge. Using that same logic, treating your homesickness as different from others is necessary to overcome it. Let’s look at some interventions these case studies have tried out.
First up to bat is talking cure (5), which is having the chance to have a kōrero about what you’re going through. You are reading a student magazine, so you need to budget in this expenny-ass city. Something as simple as mentioning it to your friends or accessing free and/or funded health services could help ease your aches. But, if you can, accessing the professional healthcare sector can be suitable for some and, if you can, is something to consider exploring (5,7).
Second (but not second best), there’s exercise. This strategy has more to do with alleviating the double-whammy effect of homesickness-associated depression (5). Now I am not discrediting the peeps hauling ass between Grafton and City Campus lectures, but we have all seen the staggering data pushing us to get out and about, if not for any other reason than a bit of a dopamine hit. So, grab your keep cup, take your meet-up on a hīkoi, and explore some of the free stuff in Auckland (what?! I’m cheap – don’t judge me).
Relationships are another intervention point. For those who have moved into the city, forming connections with your local JAFA – aka having friends in your host city – has improved an individual’s sense of belonging (9,11-12). If you’re feeling up to it, joining a university community (1), hitting comedy nights, and lecture movie sessions are all great opportunities for your next bestie meet-cute.
To those with a pet still waiting outside your bedroom door, don’t worry – they are your home, too! A study has shown that students who interacted with dogs got a lovely little mood boost and a stress reduction (13). Even the undergrads who interacted with the dog handlers alone still got some socialising out of it and alleviated some of the feelings of homesickness (I told you being social can be nice) (13). Note, I am NOT giving you permission to go and pat the hardworking service animals (respect the workforce), but it does suggest that walking your friend’s cat or patting a turtle isn’t the WORST idea in the world.
You may decide to mix things up and combine some of these suggestions, like joining the Nike Run Club or bridging the gap between “close” and “friend”. However you choose to spread your legs, I’m sure our PM will be proud. It’s also important to note that this list is non-exhaustive, and all of these intervention strategies were experimental, with variable results often specific to certain populations. So, what works for someone else (e.g., patting dogs, attending orientation) may not necessarily work for you (e.g., allergic to dogs, you are 4th year).
Let’s also set the word straight: home doesn’t have to be your nanny’s house, the town you grew up in, or even the room you begrudgingly co-signed with your sibling. It is whatever you choose it to be. But, like with any rash or festering boil, a harden-up mentality or “rubbing dirt on it” is not a sustainable cure for homesickness. What IS the fix to your mamae is working through homesickness to ensure you take the best possible care of yourself amidst your studies.
Homesickness is a very personal topic, so researchers often use subjective measurements like questionnaires in these studies. At the risk of bias (e.g., people behaving differently because they are being observed), this enables research to capture the individual experience often missed. Homesickness has a web-like complexity, and a lot of research on the topic is through case studies. These are great for studying a specific topic, developing new research pathways, and forming new theories. However, there are drawbacks to these types of research, such as results being affected by researchers and the data not always applicable to different populations.