Assistant Director of Counseling and Life Development at Webster University Gladys Smith said students living close to home can still feel homesick. She said distance can be a factor, but mainly it is certain aspects of simply being away from home that cause homesickness.
“It does not matter (how far you live) because you can still get homesick because of the routines at home, the smells at home or just being at home,” Smith said.
St. Louis resident and Webster University student Jake Kevrick misses his home in Eureka — 22 minutes from campus. Kevrick, sophomore English and music major, talks on the phone with his mother at least three times a week. He said living on campus is the longest he has been away from home. He describes the experience as a whole new world.
“I can sit in the living room in my apartment on campus, and it’s not like sitting in my living room at home. It doesn’t have the same smell, it doesn’t have the same feeling,” Kevrick said. “It’s like I’m going place to place in this foreign world even though I’m only 22 minutes from my house. It’s completely different.”
Webster junior Marvin Keith, a creative writing major from Joelton, Tenn., studied abroad in London this past spring semester. He said he felt less homesick there than at the St. Louis campus. Keith said he was so busy exploring the country that he barely had time to think about home.
Keith said the fall semester of his sophomore year at Webster’s home campus was not smooth. He said it was the hardest emotionally because his homesickness made him contemplate leaving Webster.
“It’s really a vicious cycle because all you want to do when you’re homesick is go home,” Keith said. “You sleep and feel anti-social, but it’s alienating yourself from others.”
Keith said video calling his parents on Skype once a week has helped with his homesickness. However, Justin Barton, the retention initiatives program coordinator at Webster, said to avoid phone and Skype calls. He said hearing or seeing a loved one makes the separation worse. He recommends letters and text messages.
Smith said letters are a “cathartic way of getting your feelings out,” because they help express strong emotions, but phone calls once or twice a week to home are fine, as well. She recommends exercise and getting involved with organizations on campus or attending campus events to feel more at home.
The counseling department has an adjustment group that meets every Tuesday evening to help students talk through their feelings with other students and try to find comfort, Smith said. She said most students will come into counseling to talk about a specific problem then realize the true problem was homesickness.
Webster has been using a new retention software called MAP-Works for the past three years to help track student behavior at the university. Barton said all students get surveyed through the software about twice a year, and it instantly produces an individual report for each student. The reports provide the students’ risk indicators in order to notify staff of potential at-risk situations and to improve retention. Barton said Webster’s current retention rate is 82 percent, which is 12 percent higher than the national average.
The MAP-Works survey includes questions like: if the student plans to come back to Webster next semester or next year, if the student will have enough money to pay for college and if the student’s ability or school work is faltering because of family or jobs. Barton said about 30 percent of students filled out the survey last year.
Students typically return home because something emotionally or physically negative has occurred there, Barton said. He said the worst thing a parent can offer to a student is the ability to go home at any time. He said when the students know they have the option to go home, it makes it harder for them to settle in at school.
Kevrick’s advice is to just push through the homesickness no matter how far the distance. He started feeling the most homesick at the end of his freshman year. He said he had to push himself to get past that feeling by not calling his mom and asking her to pick him up.
“It’s kind of nice not going home because you get to be with friends,” Kevrick said. “It’s not always a home cooked meal. You have to find something for yourself and then once you do it’s kind of a good feeling.”