How to handle homesickness

Isabelle Duff shares her experience of homesickness, in all it's different forms, and how she has handled it over the years. Friends and family are often scattered across the world now, so how do you cope with missing those people, and the places you used to love? Isabelle offers some reassurance, and practical advice on how to handle homesickness. 

Homesickness is always summed up to me by a quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, ‘Harry missed Hogwarts so much it was like a constant stomach ache’. Homesickness is a funny thing, it can crop up when one least expects it. It can be a longing for a place, or nostalgia for a time, or even for the people in that place.

I was the type of child that refused to go on sleepovers because I was so sad at the thought of being away from my mum for even one night. This considered, it is little wonder that I spent at least half of my first year in boarding school wading through a sea of homesickness. I remember on my first day of school, mistakenly walking out of the front where the day-girls left, instead of heading around the back to the boarders dining room.  I saw a day girl meet her mother and give her a hug. I promptly lost it, despite being enveloped in hugs from kindly prefects and older girls, I could not shake the feeling of, well frankly, abject despair. I loved my six years in school, the girls I lived with at that time are among my closest friends, but it took me a long time to adjust. It was not until the last night before the Christmas holidays when the entire boarding house was gathered around a small T.V., pyjama clad and wrapped in duvets watching Clueless that I felt a sense of belonging, and part of a larger family.

Some of the techniques I learned for dealing with homesickness at that time have really stayed with me. One of the aforementioned kindly prefects, told me that once Tuesday goes, the week flies until home time on Friday. She was right. This reminder, a precursor to ‘hump day’ has always made it a little easier to get through the week. Avoiding hockey and netball was a daily anxiety which was not helpful to my homesickness. Hockey made me miserable, but the skulduggery required to get myself excused from after school sports was stress inducing, and was a source of severe irritation to my parents and matrons.


As it transpired, there was method to the madness of my parents encouraging me to do sports, abysmal though I was, (and believe me I was excruciatingly terrible, comically so.) The point was, that at least if I was at hockey or netball I was not mulling over how miserable I was, but instead putting most of my energy in avoiding exertion and the ball by any means necessary.  Hockey’s loss was homesickness’s gain, and by failing to keep busy I fed the homesickness. For anyone in university, or a new job, who finds themselves missing home, I implore you to keep busy for your own sake. Distract yourself with hobbies and friends and try and avoid ringing home when you only have negative news about your homesickness. Sometimes a familiar voice can make you feel worse, and they get pretty fed up of your complaining after a time.

When I moved to St Andrews, and later America, I felt an acute homesickness from time to time for Ireland. Missing an entire country is a different experience again. I missed the tea, the people and the nonsense they espoused on buses and in shops. Everything about home I viewed with green tinted glasses if you will, Ireland was simply the best place in the world to me. Now, I love my homeland, but ordinarily I am hyper-aware of it’s failings. However, being away gives one a sense of nostaligia that distracts from the bigger picture and a true sense of the country. I found watching films set in Ireland or listening to podcasts from home helped me a lot, especially as I missed the humour so much.

Be kind to yourself, let yourself miss home but try not to wallow in it, it’s too difficult to emerge. Unlike mental illness homesickness is something we are in complete control over. We are so lucky to be given opportunities to travel, the world is getting smaller through air travel and the internet; we are so fortunate to live in a time where this is possible. There is no shame to homesickness, it means you come from a place you love and where you are loved. Learning to love a new place is not abandoning the old, it is simply a chance to continue on to the next chapter.