Homesickness is the sadness and melancholy exchange students may experience when they are away from their family and friends. It can manifest in students in different ways. You may notice some of these patterns while others may not be so obvious. Either way, it would be best to speak with your student about these behaviors and emotions to understand how they feel.
Notice the signs
At first, many students may not even realize they are homesick. Some common symptoms of homesickness include behavior patterns like:
- Decreased family engagement
- Increased contact with friends and family back home
- Lack of appetite
- Limited interest in making or spending time with friends here
- Increased time spent in their bedroom
- Changes in their sleep schedule
- Strong opinions about how “everything is better back home”
- Being emotional, irritable, anxious
Sometimes a simple conversation can ease a situation. With this conversation you will want to help your student express their thoughts and feelings to help identify if they are truly homesick or if there is some other cause to the behaviors.
We encourage you to use open-ended questions when addressing changes in their behavior or attitude, especially if you believe they are homesick. For example:
- "I noticed you're spending more time in your room. What’s been keeping you from spending time with us?"
- "I noticed you looked upset earlier. Is there something or someone making you upset?"
- “What can we do to make you feel more at home?”
How can you help
Case study: Homesicknes
At first, many students may not even realize they are homesick. Here are some suggestions to help your student through homesickness.
Plan a weekly family game night or ask your student to help cook a meal. Schedule family time, events, volunteering or short trips a few days in advance to give your student something to look forward to.
You could even try being a tourist in your own community. A few ideas include:
- Brush up on your town’s history and origin by checking out local museums, exhibits or landmarks
- Take a new mode of transportation to get around
- Attend local sporting events, festivals or concerts
- Try a new restaurant
Bring home comforts
Nothing says “comfort” like being surrounded by some of your favorite belongings, participating in your favorite activities or eating your favorite foods. Learn what your student likes and aim to incorporate those foods, activities or interests into your routine. It’s bound to make them feel more at home.
Keep your expectations realistic
You’ve spoken to your student and have tried to combat their homesickness with activities and outings, but you are still noticing signs. Be patient, it won’t be cured overnight.
Check in with your student regularly to ensure they are feeling better and continue to try these methods with them. Be sure to keep your IEC and/or Program Advisor looped in to how things are going with your student as they may have additional ideas to help the situation.
Yuto from Japan is spending his exchange in Maine. Since the beginning of his experience, he has been excited to try new things and has said yes to everything – family time, school activities, chores, playing with his little host siblings. Recently, the newness of these activities has worn off and Yuto is experiencing extreme homesickness. He is missing his own siblings, his favorite Japanese foods and being able to speak to everyone in Japanese. Yuto is losing interest in joining in on activities with his host family because he's missing the activities he does with his family back home.
Host family perspective
The Perez family has hosted a few times. Yuto is their third boy from Japan. During his first few months here, the family had a really positive experience with Yuto; he immediately fit into their family and always had high energy. Recently, something is shifting in Yuto and the family doesn’t recognize his cold, unengaged behavior. Of all the students they’ve hosted, they have never seen a behavior shift like this.
How they handled it
Host mom Katie reached out to her IEC, Tiffany, to share this immediate shift in Yuto’s behavior. Tiffany suspected that Yuto was struggling with homesickness. This surprised Katie as she’s helped many students through homesickness, but to her, those signs seemed more obvious, like the student looking sad or always talking about how life “back home” was better. Katie and Tiffany got together with Yuto to speak with him about how they’ve noticed changes in his behavior and how they want to help him. Then, Katie and her partner Alex took Yuto to the Asian food market in their town where they could get a few Japanese staples. Yuto was delighted! That evening, Yuto used the foods to make dinner for his family and they spent the night talking about Japanese holidays and funny expressions. Katie and Alex also planned a few weeks worth of family activities like going to football games, having friends over and going for a hike so that Yuto would have events to look forward to. With time, Yuto's mood improved and the family learned how to best support him through the ups and downs of homesickness.
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