Freshman Julia Addis left the warmth of Redwood City, Calif., for UW-Madison because she wanted a different experience than she felt schools in her state offered.
“All my friends were staying, so I felt like if I didn’t leave I never would,” she said.
However, when Addis got sick in late September and had to care for herself on her own, she began wishing she were back home, and started worrying about finding “her people.”
More than halfway through their first semester, many UW-Madison freshmen, like Addis, say they are still adjusting to life on their own. On top of homework, midterms, making new friends and living independently for the first time, many also deal with homesickness.
Feeling homesick, however, helped Addis discover she had more in common with other freshmen than she initially thought, even those from Wisconsin.
“When I got homesick I started second-guessing, but I realized that everyone feels the same way,” Addis said. “We all didn’t know where we would fit in yet.”
Freshman Emily Taub of Larchmont, N.Y., also comes to UW-Madison from far away, though she is quickly finding ways to make campus her home.
“I couldn’t be this happy anywhere else. Everyone is so nice here,” she said. “In New York everything is really quick. Here people wait a second and hold the door for the person behind them.”
Taub added she decided to attend UW-Madison because she adores the community and people of Madison and was drawn to being part of a Big Ten university.
Meanwhile, freshman Chris Kai Liao of Singapore was drawn to UW-Madison for more practical reasons, such as the relatively inexpensive tuition fees and high-quality education.
Since most of his friends also went abroad for college, Liao said “leaving the comforts and luxuries of a familiar environment didn’t seem too big of an issue.”
However, both Taub and Liao felt twinges of sadness when their friends went home for the weekend or met old friends for meals during the day. Since out-of-state and international students do not usually have such options, they must seek communities elsewhere.
Taub said she receives help for her homesickness from the people that live on her floor and the classmates in her First-Year Interest Group. She misses certain aspects of home, like her family and her own shower, but has a ritual that helps her through hard times.
“You start with making a list of things you know calm you down and actually do them,” she said.
In Liao’s case, video calling home and having an Asian community on campus has also helped him adjust. Besides that, he said focusing on schoolwork generally takes precedence over nostalgia.
“College coursework is so hectic that I don’t really have much time to be homesick anyway,” he said.
Though often difficult to navigate, the shared experience of overcoming homesickness can help students relate to one another. This is certainly the case for UW-Madison house fellow Adelaide Fenton, who said missing her family when school became tough has helped her better assist residents yearning for home.
“I think a big part of homesickness is there’s an aspect of home you’re just not going to get here,” Fenton said. “Home is home and it’s something special and something that you can’t recreate … it is unique and it’s different for every person.”
Ryan Podolak, the residence life coordinator in the freshman-only Bradley Learning Community knows the effects of homesickness all too well.
“I would argue nearly every student experiences some level of homesickness at some point,” Podolak said. “Offices like the Dean of Students, University Health Services, the Multicultural Student Center, the staff living and working in the residence halls, are all people and spaces designed to support students. Being courageous enough to reach out for assistance is a great first step.”
Addis’ own courage and commitment to remaining positive throughout her first semester in college has helped her combat homesickness. She said she has made friends, feels more welcome on campus and is wrapped up in the spirit of Madison.
“Homesickness is just a part of it. It’s a hard process, but it helps you understand what you have,” Addis said.
Similarly, Liao advises other homesick freshmen to stay optimistic and go to their advisors or professors with their concerns.
“Maintaining a positive mindset about college is easier said than done, especially with all the hectic coursework load and demanding grading scales, but it's definitely achievable,” he said.