Homesickness in socially anxious first year college students

Homesickness in socially anxious first year college students

Maria A. Urani

First year college students took part in a retrospective study exploring factors that may make individuals susceptible to prolonged homesickness. Students responded to a number of questionnaires asking them to first reflect back on how they were feeling during the first two weeks of the semester, and then on how they were feeling currently during the fifth through seventh week. The effects of social anxiety and social support were evaluated as predictors of homesickness. The effect of social anxiety is only a fair predictor of homesickness, but is a better predictor of level of social support at college, which, in turn, is a good predictor of homesickness. Directions for further research are discussed.

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The transition to university life is often looked upon as a positive event. However, the changes that result can at times be stressful for the student, as he or she leaves existing sources of social support behind. Commonly, this stress creates feelings of homesickness and the intense desire to return home. While initial feelings of homesickness are obviously common for most, if not all, new students, prolonged feelings often prove to be problematic. Burt (1993) showed that persistent feelings of homesickness can lead to a lack of concentration and ability to perform, along with absent-mindedness and cognitive failures. Thus, homesickness in college students is an issue that must be taken seriously, for it can influence one’s level of success in adapting to their new lives as collegians.

Fisher and Hood (1987) examined the relationship between homesickness and a number of demographic and personal characteristics of first year college students. Their findings showed that there were no sex differences in the reports of homesickness, and that homesickness is largely independent of age. Furthermore, their results indicated that those students who reported high levels of homesickness had a tendency to view their home environments in positive terms, suggesting that when they had positive experiences in the past, it made it harder for them to leave their homes behind. Finally, their results indicated that, “homesick individuals had greater psychological disturbances particularly manifest in raised obsessionality scores, somatic symptoms reporting, and depression” (p.438).

In a second study, Fisher and Hood (1988) found that those first year college students who exhibit signs of insecurity and poor social skills prior to entering university life have a greater tendency to exhibit signs of homesickness during the sixth week of their first term. Finally, Fisher and Hood (1988, p. 316) found that “homesick individuals reported greater perceived stress in association with all residential moves than their non-homesick counterparts.”

Using the work of Fisher and Hood as a guide, other researchers explored factors that may make an individual susceptible to homesickness. For example, Kazantzis and Flett (1998) focused on family cohesion as a determinant of homesickness in first year college students. Their findings showed that family cohesion and dependency were significant predictors of the occurrence of homesickness. Upon further analysis of their findings, they also suggested that homesickness might in fact be a “positive affirmation of the importance of family relationships” (p. 200).

As seen above, some studies have focused on determining what factors influence homesickness in adolescents. Other studies (e.g., LaGreca & Lopez, 1998) have focused on social anxiety among adolescents. Using the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SASA, LaGreca & Stone, 1993) to measure social anxiety, the Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents (SSSCA, Harter, 1985), to measure social support, and the Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents (SPPA, Harter, 1988) to measure adolescents’ perceptions of competence, LaGreca and Lopez examined social anxiety in adolescents. Social anxiety, defined by the American Psychiatric Association (1994, p. 416) as the “marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others,” affects many people, making it difficult for them to adjust to social settings and to interact with people they are not familiar with (LaGreca & Lopez, 1998). LaGreca and Lopez showed that adolescents who exhibit symptoms of social anxiety report poorer social functioning, fewer friendships, and less intimacy, companionships, and support in their relationships than those individuals who do not exhibit symptoms of social anxiety.

To date, no research has directly examined the relationship between social anxiety and homesickness in first year college students. It would seem likely that socially anxious individuals would have a harder time than non-socially anxious individuals in adjusting to transitions in their lives, especially if such transitions result in being in new settings without their familiar support systems. Such an adjustment could possibly lead to high levels of homesickness, such as those found in Fisher and Hood’s studies.

The purpose of the present study was therefore to explore the relationship between social anxiety and homesickness for first year college students. It was predicted that those individuals with high levels of social anxiety will have a harder time (i.e., be slower) establishing social support networks in college. Consequently, their homesickness is expected to be more prolonged than less socially anxious college students.

Method

Undergraduate students from Loyola University Chicago (N = 105; 87 females, 18 males) participated in this research in partial fulfillment of requirements in their General Psychology course. All participants were required to be first year college students living away from home. Their ages ranged from 17 to 19 years old, with the mean age being 18.07 (SD = .32). Of all the participants, 63.8% reported themselves as being Caucasian/White, African Americans made up 3.8%, Hispanics comprised 15.2%, and 14.3% reported their ethnicity to be Asian or Pacific Islander. Finally, 2.9% listed “other” as their ethnicity. In reference to residential housing, 104 participants reported that they live in residential housing and only one participant reported living in housing other than that provided by the university. The range for distance in miles from one’s permanent address was from 0-10 miles

to 2000 miles or greater. Approximately 7.6% reported their permanent address as being 0-10 miles away. Just over 25% reported 11-50 miles away. 20.0% reported 51-100 miles away. 11.4% reported 101-300 miles away. 17.1 % reported 301-500 miles away. 2.9% reported 501-700 miles away. 1.9% reported 701-900 miles away. 6.7% reported 901-1100 miles away. 1.9% reported 1100-1400 miles away, and finally 4.8% reported their permanent address as being 2000 or more miles away. Of all participants, 5.7% reported that they go home every weekend, 20.0% said they have been home 5-10 times, 40.0% have been home 2-3 times, and finally 34.3% have not returned home since the beginning of the Fall term. In reference to the question concerning whether or not the participants had ever been away from home for an extended period prior to entering the university, 81.9% reported that they had not, while 18.1 % reported that they had. Lastly, the range for the number of times that participants were in contact with their family and friends from home during the week was from 7 times/Everyday to 0 times/Never, with the mean frequency for contact with family being 2.00 contacts per week (SD =.82) and the mean frequency for contact with friends being 2.00 contacts per week (SD = .96).

Materials

Participants were asked to complete questionnaires in which they retrospectively responded to questions regarding how they felt about certain issues during the first two weeks of school, and how they currently felt regarding the same issues during the fifth through seventh week of school.

Dundee Relocation Inventory (DRI)

Intensity of homesickness was measured using the Dundee Relocation Inventory (Fisher, 1986). The inventory consists of 26 items. Twenty-four of the items describe positive (e.g. I feel secure here) and negative (e.g. I feel threatened here) reactions and feelings of the participants to their new environments. Two of the items are dummy items. Each item was rated on a 3-point scale with responses defined as Never= 0, Sometimes = 1, and Often = 2. A total score was calculated for the purpose of the present study.

Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SASH)

The degree of social anxiety was measured using the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (LaGreca & Stone, 1993). This scale contains 18 descriptive statements and four filler items. Each item is rated on a 5-point scale according to how much each statement is characteristic or “true for you” (1 = not at all, 5 = all the time). The scale yields a total score and three subscales. The first subscale, Fear of Negative Evaluation (FNE) regards fears or worries of being negatively evaluated by peers. The next two subscales involve analysis of social avoidance and distress and includes SAD-New and SAD-General. The SAD-New Scale deals with social avoidance and distress that is specific to new situations or unfamiliar peers. The SAD-General Scale deals with social avoidance and distress that is experienced more generally when in the company of peers. For the purpose of the present study the total score was used.

Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents (SSSCA)

Finally, participants’ perceived social support from two sources, home environment and school environment, was assessed using the Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents (Harter, 1985). The scale consists of 24 items in which two statements were paired (e.g., some students like to do fun things with a lot of other people BUT other students like to do fun things with just a few people). The participants chose which of the two statements was most true for him or her and then rated how true it was (“really true for me” or “sort of true for me”). Scores ranged from one to four for each item (1 = negative support, 4 = positive support) and subscale scores (home environment and school environment) were obtained by summing relevant items. The language of the SSSCA was slightly modified for this study to relate to college students, changing words such as “some kids” to “some students.”

Procedure

Participants were recruited from the General Psychology subject pool during the fifth through seventh week of the Fall term. They were administered the DRI, the SASA, and the SSSCA in small groups. The measures were first administered as a retrospective report, asking participants to report how they felt concerning the issues during the first two weeks of the term. Then they were asked to report how they felt currently with respect to the issues. Participants were also asked to fill out a demographics sheet. Prior to completing the questionnaires, they read an informed consent form and signed it if they chose to participate. They were then administered the questionnaires and were allowed to complete the materials in a quiet setting. Upon completing the measures, participants were given a debriefing form which explained the purpose of the research and ensured them that their responses would remain confidential.

Results and Discussion

A path model using LISREL VIII (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1996) on single-moment data was employed to examine the relationships between social anxiety, social support and homesickness (See Figure 1). Correlations between the measures, as well as descriptive statistics, may be seen in Table 1. The actual strength of the relationships between variables may be seen in Table 2.

The path analysis indicated that there was a statistically significant positive relationship between social anxiety and homesickness at the beginning of the semester. This may be the case because socially anxious individuals tend to worry especially much about their environment. The change in their support network may have an especially great impact on them. Initial level of social anxiety does not have a statistically significant relationship with homesickness later on in the semester. Initially, everyone may feel elevated levels of anxiety about starting college. Examination of the mean values for homesickness at Time 1 and at Time 2 suggests that homesickness did decline over time for the sample as a whole. As predicted, there is a statistically significant negative relationship between social anxiety later on in the semester and levels of social support at school. It appears that socially anxious individuals may have difficulty in establishing new support networks, as demonstrated by these lower levels of social support. Furthermore, level of social support later at school has a statistically significant negative relationship with level of homesickness. Hence, it appears that the presence of social support acts as a buffer for the experience of homesickness. Since individuals with high social anxiety have trouble establishing these relationships, they may be especially prone to homesickness.

In addition to these predicted relationships, it is also interesting to note that social support in the individual’s home environment prior to going to college has a statistically significant positive relationship with social support at school. It is possible that individuals who have developed strong relationships at home have learned how to establish such relationships in other environments. It may also be indicative of a trait-like characteristic in terms of being able to establish or appreciate social support networks.

Additionally, as would be expected, social anxiety at the start of the semester had a significant positive relationship with social anxiety later on in the semester. It is possible that despite some initial level of homesickness in most individuals, those who are likely to actually experience prolonged homesickness are those who are likely to continue experiencing high levels of social anxiety. It is interesting to note that the level of homesickness did not behave in a similar manner. This may be because an initial level of homesickness is to be expected, but as individuals do establish social networks at school, their homesickness remits and many individuals are able to function more adaptively. In summary of our findings, the overall model, tested on first year college students, demonstrated a good fit (See Table 3), thus indicating that the data does not deviate significantly from the proposed model. Additionally, it illustrates that this model as a whole effectively describes the relationships between social anxiety, social support, and homesickness.

These findings bring us one step closer to understanding what causes homesickness to persist in certain individuals as they struggle to adapt to a new environment. Research conducted by Fisher and Hood (1987,1988) indicated that the transition to university life can be very stressful for the student, resulting in homesickness, and psychological disturbance. The present findings support Fisher and Hood’s contention that the transition to university life is stressful. It further extends their findings in that it illustrates a possible mechanism by which homesickness occurs. Future research on social anxiety and homesickness in college students may extend on these ideas, possibly looking at this relationship longitudinally while replicating the present retrospective study. Other possibilities could look into intervention programs that may make the transition into college life less painful by addressing those issues which are likely to foster homesickness and the means by which these issues might be ameliorated (e.g., social skills training, anxiety management training).

Table 1.

Correlations Between Measures

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

1. Social Anxiety

Time 1 1.00

2. Social Anxiety

Time 2 .79 1.00

3. Social Support

of Family -.07 -.01 1.00

4. Social Support

at School -.26 -.33 .47 1.00

5. Homesickness

Time 1 .41 .30 .05 -.12 1.00

6. Homesickness

Time 2 .31 .33 .01 -.29 .251.00

Descriptive Statistics

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

M 53.18 47.45 20.51 37.60 19.98 14.18

SD 11.51 11.39 3.83 5.26 9.39 7.77

Note: N = 105. All |r| = .19 are significant at the p = .05 level

Table 2

Summary of Path Coefficients for Path Model

(N = 105)

Path P standardized

Social Anxiety Time I predicting

Homesickness Time I <.001 .41

Social Anxiety Time I predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .32 .07

Social Anxiety Time I predicting

Social Anxiety Time 2 <.001 .79

Family Social Support predicting

Social Support at School <.001 .44

Social Support at School predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .004 -.25

Social Anxiety Time 2 predicting

Social Support at School <.001 -.32

Social Anxiety Time 2 predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .15 .15

Homesickness Time I predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .08 .44

Path unstandardized (Error)

Social Anxiety Time I predicting

Homesickness Time I .33 .07

Social Anxiety Time I predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .05 .10

Social Anxiety Time I predicting

Social Anxiety Time 2 .78 .06

Family Social Support predicting

Social Support at School 1.01 .19

Social Support at School predicting

Homesickness Time 2 -.23 .09

Social Anxiety Time 2 predicting

Social Support at School -.25 .06

Social Anxiety Time 2 predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .10 .10

Homesickness Time I predicting

Homesickness Time 2 .11 .08

Note: All pvalues reflect onetailed significance tests based on

directional hypotheses

Table 3

Summary of Statistics Assessing Model Fit in Structural Equation

Modeling (N = 105)

Model X2 df GFI AGFI CFI NFI RMSEA SRMR

Overall 6.31 6 .98 0.93 >.99 .96 .01 .04

p = .39

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Author Note

Maria A. Urani, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago. Steven A. Miller, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago. James E. Johnson, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago. Thomas P. Petzel, Department of Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago.

Send correspondence concerning this article to Maria A. Urani, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, 6525 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60626; email: mariaurani@hotmail.com

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