Wetenschap - 3 oktober 2002

Homesickness is normal: a student and a psychologist talk

Homesickness is normal: a student and a psychologist talk

So here you are having a good time exploring Wageningen, but why do you cry yourself to sleep? And why do you feel so abandoned, so far from home? While some people have no problem being away from home, for others it is no laughing matter.

According to Ben Riksen, a psychologist who works for the department of Education and Student Affairs, feelings of homesickness are a normal and natural reaction. In a survey carried out in 2001 at the University of Utrecht, psychologist Tony van Vliet discovered that about five percent of the Dutch first-year students had serious homesickness problems.

Riksen: "You leave a trusted environment, family, friends and clubs. I want to emphasise that it is completely normal and natural to experience homesickness. I say this because students don't want to talk about it, think they are being childish and are ashamed, which is not necessary. Homesickness happens and can really affect your life, but if you can just talk about it to someone you can start to get over the feelings of shame and inferiority."

Sudarno (at home in Java last names are not used) is someone who often feels homesick. He experienced a big culture shock coming here: the first thing he encountered in his student flat was a huge dog. "I immediately called my wife back home and went to sleep on a friend's floor. I was really afraid; at home we don?t keep dogs inside the house."

Riksen describes the feelings and symptoms associated with homesickness. Along with negative feelings about the new place, people tend to idealise how it was at home. Physical problems include stomach complaints, insomnia, headache and lack of appetite. In terms of behaviour, people suffering from homesickness tend to show apathy, little interest in their new surroundings, little initiative and they tend to withdraw socially. Emotionally they may become depressed, or sad because they can't go home and longing for their old, familiar environment.

Sudarno, here for the first year of his MSc in Environmental Science, often calls his wife in tears and every morning he browses the Internet for news on Indonesia. "I really would like to go back home. My wife will give birth to our first child in February next year, but I won?t be able to go home until March 2004. I don?t have the money and my schedule is too busy. When I get really depressed I listen to Indonesian music."

Riksen says it is important that a student builds up a relationship with his or her new surroundings and does not become isolated. This is the best way to ensure that your time in Wageningen is enjoyable. Sometimes Sudarno is so busy that he forgets to think about home, and he is glad he can phone and use the Internet. It helps to know that for most students the homesickness becomes less and sometimes even disappears altogether.

Riksen: "Not everyone suffers from homesickness ? some people seem to be more susceptible than others. Some research has also been done on this, and students who are still very dependent on their parents are more likely to suffer than those who are already fairly independent. Other studies have also shown that introvert people are more likely to suffer than extroverts. Qualities such as flexibility, assertiveness, self confidence and self esteem also play a role, although there are no definite conclusions."

Although being homesick is normal, it often seems so overwhelming that students give up and go home. Riksen understands this: "Sometimes it's just too big a step, or not the right time. I can totally understand that." Students are always welcome to make an appointment with a psychologist at the student affairs office.

Esther Tol

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