Redefining Homesickness: A Personal Essay

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AAs contagious as COVID-19 is and as widespread as this season’s flu, I’ve noticed that students often face a different affliction that seems just as pervasive: homesickness. There is a certain range between the mildest and the strongest cases, but many students are experiencing this affliction for the very first time. In fact, HAP, a Michigan-based health care provider, has found that over 30% of students have low-intensity homesickness. The number of first-year students suffering from severe homesickness is around 69%.

But what is homesickness? Breaking down the word sounds simple enough: home and sickness. Except that this breakdown doesn’t quite capture the spirit of the word. After all, the word does not mean that one is fed up with home, as the intuitive interpretation of the combination might imply. It does not mean that you have an illness at home either. Also, the inclusion of the word house makes sense, but the inclusion of the word disease less so. Illness, as defined by Oxford Languages, means “the state of being sick” or “the feeling or being affected by nausea or vomiting”. While I know many people who miss their families, few, if any, have been physically affected by homesickness in the way this blackout might suggest.

It turns out that languages ​​have somewhat mixed results in finding better terms for homesickness than English. Originally, the word homesickness comes from the German word Heimweh, directly translating to “pain at home” or “pain at home”. This breakdown captures the meaning of the word a little better. Oxford Languages’ definition of pain, “mental distress or suffering,” at least somewhat explains the emotional feeling of the term. Italian expression nostalgia for home, meaning longing for home, does the trick perfectly. But, like English, some languages ​​are less precise when it comes to naming this life experience. Nostalgia Where anoranza, terms closest to homesickness in Spanish, simply mean yearning for something from the past, but neither has anything to do with the house itself.

This kind of analysis of the word homesickness itself may seem pedantic or picky, and there is certainly an argument to be made that it is. But as I pondered why the vagueness of the language bothered me for this specific word, I realized that my annoyance was due to the basic nature of every definition I found. They have neither grasped the causes of homesickness nor indicated the means to combat it. It’s a lot to ask for a definition, I know, so I’ve been looking for a definition of homesickness that accomplishes both myself.

I started where it made the most sense, asking a basic question: What does it mean to be homesick? As I asked myself and those around me this question, I found that it fell into two categories.

First, being homesick means feeling the absence of the things of the home that we took for granted: failing to speak a mother tongue every day; miss the intimate familiarity with the layout and architecture of a hometown; craving for spices and dishes that just aren’t the same; leave the inner jokes with old friends unsaid. Every afternoon, I come home from class and walk through the front door of my new home. Every afternoon I’m reminded that my sisters won’t give me a hug anymore and my parents won’t rush me with the details of my day. Every afternoon I remember how much I took the little house routines for granted.

Second, being homesick means regretting things in the house that we realize we haven’t taken full advantage of. During a call with my younger sisters, I discovered that they didn’t spend much time together as their schedules were busy with school. They broke the news with an air of nonchalance, as if it was a natural and insignificant step in their relationship. For me, however, the 350 miles of distance between college and home provided the right kind of perspective to be a little sad and a little regrettable about this kind of development. What hurts the most, I guess, is that I admit that I did the exact same thing when I was there. But I know they won’t be able to fully appreciate my feelings yet. Nonetheless, it’s these types of calls that make me wish I had shared more nights that smelled like movie night’s popcorn with them. It’s those types of calls that make me wish I had faced a few more sunburns and a few more bug bites to spend a few more afternoons of volleyball at the park with them. It’s those types of calls that make me wish I had done more mess in the kitchen while baking delicious cookies with them.

If the real meaning of homesickness is to feel the absence of what you took for granted at home and regret the missed opportunities at home, then a basic prescription such as no more calls home may not not be enough. While you can’t change what you already take for granted, and you can’t time travel to avoid regrets, there are other ways you can move forward. In addition to staying in touch with loved ones at home, fighting homesickness means being present in your daily life, doing your best to appreciate what you have around you and minimize regrets. we are going to have.

Battling homesickness can be like hugging your friends a little closer, having a spontaneous day, or letting the people around you know that they are important to you.

In redefining homesickness, we don’t have to explore the word’s German roots, and we don’t have to find the alternatives that the Romance languages ​​offer. In redefining homesickness, instead, we need to remember the things we value the most, lest we fall into the trap of taking them for granted or having regrets all over again.

Contact Lucas Yen at [email protected]

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