Homesickness

You don’t have to come from very far away to miss the familiar and feel out of place. Homesickness is really normal, but making new connections helps.

Whether you’re from another part of New Zealand or from overseas, it’s likely that at some stage you will feel homesick.  This is a natural part of adjusting to a new culture, a new environment, and a new way of life. 

Homesickness can prompt a range of emotions similar to those we experience when grieving—sadness, anger, numbness, and the feeling that we have somehow made the wrong choice. You may also experience tearfulness, low mood, anxiety, poor sleep, and a loss of motivation and interest in the things you usually enjoy.  You may also find that your usual ways of dealing with situations are no longer effective, or that you have lost confidence in your ability to manage. 

Some practical ideas

  • Try to think positively about yourself, your strengths and your situation.  You’ve done really well to get to university and we all know it’s a difficult place to be at times.  Think about the strategies and strengths you’ve drawn on in the past to help you through difficult times.
  • Although you may not feel like it, exercising will help to lift your mood.  Keep active through  walking, going to the gym, taking a dance class – whatever you enjoy doing.
  • Keep to your usual routines - keep getting up at the same time, going to classes and continuing with regular planned activities.
  • Talk to family and friends or someone else whom you trust to get another perspective on your situation.
  • Be kind to yourself!  Keep doing things that you enjoy that help lift your mood – for example, keep in touch with friends, watch a movie, read, or have a hot bath.
  • Try to avoid short-term fixes such as alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and energy drinks.  These might help for a brief time, but can actually make things worse overall.
  • Getting enough sleep is often difficult when we’re not feeling great, but sleep is vital to managing our mood.  If your sleep is significantly disturbed for days on end, and you’ve tried the practical ideas for getting a good nights’ sleep, talk to your GP.

Moving to a new country

When people move to a new country they tend to go through four stages of adjustment:

The honeymoon stage

At first, everything seems exciting and new, and people feel energised by and enthusiastic about the change.

The culture shock stage

After a while, people become very aware of the differences and conflict in values between their home culture and the new culture. 'Culture shock' increases if people are also struggling with a new language or they encounter prejudice. At this stage, people may feel disappointed, confused, anxious, angry and intensely homesick.

Recovery stage

At this stage, people begin to resolve the conflicts of the culture shock stage, as they learn more about their new culture and start to adjust and cope.

The adaptation stage

At this stage, people come to accept and appreciate both the similarities and differences between their home culture and new one. They are more realistic and clearer about both.

If you are an international student and struggling with any of these feelings, Victoria International can provide support and help you to meet people from your home country, and other countries, to help you adjust to your new life.  

Wherever you are from, near or far, if homesickness is making it hard for you to cope with day to day life, it can be helpful to talk to someone.  Student Counselling has counsellors from overseas—as well as kiwi counsellors who have lived abroad—who can understand what you're going through and can help you adjust to life away from home.

Winkelman, M. (1994). Cultural shock and adaptation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 73, 121-126.