Support group helps students cope with homesickness

Leaving your hometown to come to college can often present hardship for many students, regardless of the distance, said a Marshall University mental health specialist on Thursday during the Surviving Homesickness Support Group.

“It is not unusual to be experiencing homesickness,” Stephanie Shaffer said. “I was from right across the river in Chesapeake, and it was a huge adjustment to me. Of course, it is true that it’s more common if you are from farther away, but it’s still totally normal to be experiencing those feelings of homesickness.”

Research shows that 70% of college students feel homesick at some point.

 Two-thirds of the students state that the feeling lasted for more than a week, according to statistics from the Counseling Center.

“One of the biggest transitions in a person’s life is the transition from home to college,” said Ryan Majher, a mental health specialist with Marshall’s Counseling Center. “During times of increased homesickness, we have a tendency as humans to be introverted, and that is one of the worst things we can do. When you start feeling this way, be social. If you feel like isolating yourself, that should be a red flag. You have to force yourself to get out. Isolating yourself is only going to make things worse.” 

Majher also said that feeling uncomfortable should not always be seen as something negative.

Feeling uncomfortable can oftentimes serve as a sign of growth for individuals, he said. 

“No humans like change, regardless of the culture we are from, but as a human, we have to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to grow,” Majher said. 

The discussion was led by the homesickness support group, which is a part of the larger outreach program organized in October by the Counseling Center.

The group welcomes all students regardless of the distance of their hometown from Marshall.

For some students on campus, particularly international students, the adjustment to a new setting can often bring unexpected challenges, including something as simple as finding a suitable place to eat when hungry.

“I’m from Egypt, but I have already lived in many countries, including Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Qatar,” Ahmed Elhosseing, a graduate student studying English, said. “When I came here, I experienced a culture shock, especially here in West Virginia. In my home country, I would walk around the streets late at night, going into shops and diners before I would go to bed. I was used to going to eat dinner around midnight, but around here all the restaurants are closed during that time.”

Since coming to West Virginia, Elhosseing said he has struggled to eat more than once a day.

The food in West Virginia is drastically different than the cuisine of his hometown in Egypt, he said.

“Here, I am not a fan of the foods within the culture. I can’t eat a burger or pizza every day, so I’ve also begun to lose weight from not eating,” Elhosseing said. “So, what can I do? The best thing for me was the YouTube application, where, two months ago, I began to learn how to cook my own food.”

Both mental health specialists at the event applauded how well Elhosseing has adapted to his situation in West Virginia.

The mental health specialists used Elhosseing as an example for how students can use the coping skills taught at the university’s Counseling Center to better their experience while at Marshall.

“I never in my life have had to cook for myself, but I actually really enjoy it,” Elhosseing said. “Now I can cook anything, and I often think to myself ‘what should I cook tomorrow?’”

Towards the end of the event, Shaffer reminded the students of how important it is to capitalize on the opportunities given to them by the university to help cope with their feelings of homesickness.

Even simple and easy methods of coping with such feelings can often be very effective, he said.

“Make sure you are utilizing your resources available to you,” Shaffer said. “Sometimes you just need to have somebody to talk to, and that’s why we’re always here for you in the Counseling Center.” 

The Counseling Center will also be continuing its outreach program in November.

The mental health specialists at the event invited all students who are struggling during their time at Marshall to participate in their various upcoming events.

Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected]