Far from home: Dealing with homesickness in post-secondary school

As a post-secondary student, moving to campus for the first time can be scary. It can be difficult adjusting to a new environment and making new friends. For many students, one of the most daunting parts of starting post-secondary school is being away from home for the first time.

Research in this field is not conclusive. However, a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California shows that 71 per cent of students felt homesick at some point in their first year at post-secondary school. A separate study by Talita Ferrara for the Institute of Education Sciences raises that number to 94 per cent. The latter also notes that the further students were from their homes, the more likely they were to experience homesickness.

Feeling alone

Leslie McLaren is an international student from Switzerland studying at Wilfrid Laurier University. According to McLaren, the reading week of her first fall term was the first time she really felt alone.

“Everyone going home to their families, and me not having a family to go to, per se, that was tough,” she says. “I think that’s when I started to feel lonely and notice I don’t have the same support network that others had.”

Elizabeth Ho, a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, says her experience was slightly different. With the hassle of trying to adjust to her new environment, the feeling of being away from home didn’t kick in right away. She even says that when she returned home to Mississauga, Ont., for the first time, it was as if she never left.

“You feel like you’ve stepped into Narnia for a bit, and [when] you come back, nothing has changed,” she says. “Your friends still look the same as they looked four months ago, and your family’s still doing what they’re doing.”

Changing your perspective

Moving away from home doesn’t always mean that you’ll always be in a foreign land when you’re away. Viewing a new environment as a second home can help make the adjustment more comfortable.

For McLaren, growing to see both Canada and Switzerland as home helped her feel more connected to the people at her school.

“Once you start talking to friends back home less frequently, that’s when you start to panic,” she says.

McLaren says seeing Canada as a second home helped her establish new friendships and support systems at school.

Ho shares a similar sentiment.

“You don’t need to try building a whole new home,” she says. “You can have multiple.”

Instead of trying to see either Canada or Scotland as her singular home, she was able to find a sense of home in both countries. 

Finding your people

For Ho, finding a group with shared interests reminded her of her life in Canada and helped her develop a sense of security in her environment. She also says she appreciates having a smaller group of friends she can always rely on.

“Throughout the pandemic especially, I realized that having made close friends in first year really helped me survive my time at home,” she says. “Even when you go home for the summer, and you’re not on campus anymore, if you only have superficial friendships, you feel very detached again.”

Even when Ho was separated from her friends, she could still turn to them in times of need because of the bond they created.

McLaren says finding the right group of friends helped her push forward with her education instead of leaving.

“I was hating my time at school, and I wanted to go home,” she says. “I was thinking of dropping out, but that was when I joined the acapella club at my school and met a lot of cool friends.”

At the same time, she advises new students to have good judgment and not be too quick to stick with the first friends they find.

“I found a couple of friends who I clung to. I had just made my first friends, and I only thought about doing everything to stay with them without actually thinking if they were good friends.”

Staying true to yourself

It can be easy to lose yourself when trying to fit into a new environment. However, one of the best ways to find people who you can actually build good friendships with is to be yourself. This way, you’ll attract people who enjoy you for who you are.

“Know what your values are and stick to them,” McLaren says. “Don’t just throw them away for other people or adapt to other people and just end up losing yourself.”

Ho shares similar advice. She says that while it’s great to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things, you should always stay true to yourself so you don’t get lost completely.

“Don’t try to evolve so fast that you turn around and don’t really know where you’ve gone,” she says. “I think what lots of people do is they actively push away their old lives. But then when you do have those moments of insecurity or something’s gone wrong, you’re going to realize that you actually lost touch with yourself.”

She advises leaving a “breadcrumb trail,” keeping some connection to your old life so you have something to turn to in times of need.

Moving away from home for the first time is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Remember that many other students are going through the exact same struggle. Know that just because you feel homesick now doesn’t mean that you’ll be away from home forever. You can always make a new home while holding onto where you came from.


If you are experiencing homesickness, remember that most post-secondary schools offer a wellness centre or mental health counselling. You can also connect with an academic advisor or a residence leader if you live on campus. These individuals may also be able to guide you toward other available support services. Don’t be afraid to access these resources if you need them.

There are also supports available outside campus, like the Kids Help Phone’s Peer-to-Peer Community. This is an online forum for youth to share their experiences, and you might be able to find people who are going through the same struggles as you.

About the author

Kyle Quilatan

Kyle is a writer for Youth Mind who studied English at Wilfrid Laurier University. When he’s not writing, he enjoys art and music.

Kyle Quilatan

Kyle is a writer for Youth Mind who studied English at Wilfrid Laurier University. When he’s not writing, he enjoys art and music.

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