British Journal of Psychology (2002), 93, 147 –168 © 2002 The British Psychological Society www.bps.org.uk

Homesickness among students in two cultures: Antecedents and consequences
Margaret Stroebe1*, Tony van Vliet1, Miles Hewstone2 and Hazel Willis3
1 2

Utrecht University, The Netherlands Oxford University, UK 3 Cardiff University, UK
Review of the theoretical and empirical literature on homesickness showed that despite recent advances, scienti c understanding of the impact on students of leaving home for college is still limited. Further empirical investigation using standardized measures, structural equation models and including additional mediating/moderating variables is needed. Two studies were thus conducted, one in the Netherlands, and one in the UK. Homesickness was investigated among recent-intake students, using a newly developed instrument, the Utrecht Homesickness Scale. Variables investigated in relationship to homesickness included depression, personality factors (self-liking, competence, self-esteem) and family situation (attachment to family). Homesickness was found to be a common though differentially prevalent phenomenon (approximately 50% in the Netherlands; 80% in the UK). Structural equation models showed that students missed family and friends and had dif culties adjusting to college life. These dif culties were associated with ruminations about home and loneliness, which themselves were associated with depression. There were differences in intensity (UK students were more homesick) and there were gender differences (UK females experienced more homesickness). Both the personality and family situation factors had an impact on homesickness. The results supported the conceptualization of homesickness as a ‘mini-grief’, to be viewed from theoretical perspectives in the eld of loss and bereavement .

Empirical and theoretical overview of student homesickness
There is a limited scienti c literature on the topic of homesickness. This is surprising, since departure from the home environment, particularly for young persons, can be a
*Requests for reprints should be addressed to Margaret Stroebe, Department of Clinical Psychology, Utrecht University, PO Box 80140, 3508 TC, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Margaret Stroebe et al.

highly stressful experience (see Fisher, 1989; van Tilburg, 1998; van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & van Heck, 1996, for recent reviews of the literature). Homesickness is a more widespread phenomenon than is usually believed. As many as 50 –75% of the general population have experienced homesickness at least once in their life (Fisher, 1989). Furthermore, 10 –15% of the homesick have experienced it to such an extent that it interferes with their daily activities (Fisher, 1989). While there have been some previous studies on homesickness among college students (e.g. Archer, Ireland, Amos, Broad, & Currid, 1998; Brewin, Furnham, & Howes, 1989; Carden & Feicht, 1991; Fisher & Hood, 1987, 1988; van Tilburg, 1998), these only yield information on a limited number of psychological variables, and employ a variety of homesickness measures, some of them non-standardized. In fact, even a precise de nition of homesickness is hard to nd in the literature. Generally, it is understood that homesick children or students miss their parents and family, friends and other familiar persons, their familiar surroundings and home comforts, and they feel extremely insecure (cf. Baier & Welch, 1992; EurelingsBontekoe, Vingerhoets & Fontijn, 1994; Fisher, 1989). With respect to student homesickness, some dimensions include ‘disliking the university’ as well as ‘attachment to the home’ (cf. Archer et al., 1998). These dimensions re ect the varied descriptions that can be found, which range from ‘depression as a result of absence from home’ (The Oxford Dictionary), to ‘longing for home and family while absent from them’ (Webster’s Dictionary). Empirical overview What is the state of knowledge about prevalence, predisposition for, and impact of homesickness among students thus far? Wide differences in the prevalence of homesickness have been reported, although it is generally considered by researchers to affect people from all cultures and all age groups (van Tilburg et al., 1996). Research has indicated that homesickness occurs in large numbers of students who leave home. Among student populations in Great Britain, for example, between 30% and 60% of both men and women reported being affected by homesickness during their rst year at university. For example, Brewin et al. (1989) found that 40% of the students in their sample reported feeling homesick, 20% were unsure and 40% reported not feeling homesick. By comparison, also among students, Fisher and Hood (1987, 1988) found 30–35% to be slightly to very homesick, while 65 –70% were not. On a dichotomous homesickness measure, Fisher, Murray, and Frazer (1985) found that 60% of the rst year students in their sample reported being homesick. Vastly different percentages have been reported for other countries. Carden and Feicht (1991), for example, found that 19% of American and 77% of Turkish students attending universities in their own countries could be classi ed as being homesick in their rst year (based on a cut-off point of 1 standard deviation above the mean rating for the group on a homesickness questionnaire). The diversity in percentages both within and between countries is likely to be due, at least in part, to differences in the scales used and in the duration of time since leaving home. Indeed, it is sometimes dif cult to compare results across samples, particularly with respect to prevalence of homesickness, because investigators use their own speci c homesickness scales (cf. Archer et al., 1998; Eurelings-Bontekoe, Tolsma, Verschuur, & Vingerhoets, 1996; Eurelings-Bontekoe, Verschuur, Koudstaal, & van der Sar, 1995; van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & van Heck, 1997). The psychological literature on predispositional factors, risk factors and mediators of homesickness has mainly studied personal characteristics which predispose persons

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to become homesick, and characteristics of the environment or situation that are associated with greater intensities of it. Highly relevant for student populations is the question of gender differences as a risk factor for homesickness. While lay assumptions might lead to expectations of greater female homesickness on leaving home for college, the literature does not support this. Brewin et al. (1989) reported that homesickness was similarly prevalent among male and female students, a nding con rmed by Fisher for a variety of samples (e.g. Fisher et al., 1985; Fisher & Hood, 1987, 1988). Ways of coping, however, differed between the genders, with women seeking more social support than was the case for men. Similarly, Archer et al. (1998) found that female students showed higher levels of intrusive thinking about homesickness, mediated by their higher scores on the attachment factor of a homesickness questionnaire, whereas there was no gender difference in avoidant responses to homesickness. There are gender differences in coping with and consequences of other negative life-events, notably—in this context—bereavement (e.g. health detriments are relatively more extreme for widowers than for widows, see Stroebe & Stroebe, 1987). Thus, further examination of patterns of gender differences in homesickness would seem timely. Van Tilburg et al. (1996) have recently emphasized the need for further examination of cultural differences in the prevalence and experience of homesickness, noting that this had not been studied systematically. Carden and Feicht (1991) studied homesickness among Turkish and American students in their own countries, but limited investigation to females. Hojat and Herman (1985) studied a sample of Iranian and Filipino individuals, but these were all resident in the USA and the sample was composed of physicians. Ward and Kennedy (1993) examined homesickness among students in different cultures, but these were all from New Zealand, residing in 23 different countries of the world. Lu (1990) also examined students who had moved to study in a different culture, but again, the study was con ned to one cultural group, namely, Chinese students, all of whom had moved to a university in the UK. Particularly important too in the context of our investigation are ndings to do with personal vulnerability factors. Both Carden and Feicht (1991) and Brewin et al. (1989) reported associations between dependency and homesickness. In the Brewin et al. (1989) study ‘dependency on others’ was a predictor of homesickness; in the Carden and Feicht (1991) study, dependency on family and parents was found to be characteristic of homesick but not non-homesick students. Personality and dispositional correlates of homesickness have also been identi ed among student samples. Fisher (1989) found that introversion, depression and obsession were related to homesickness, but that self-esteem was no different among homesick versus non-homesick students. In other samples, lower self-esteem has indeed been reported for homesick samples (Eurelings-Bontekoe et al., 1994; Hojat & Herman, 1985). Furthermore, EurelingsBontekoe et al. (1994) also found higher levels of introversion, rigidity and negativism and lower levels of dominance among homesick conscripts. Rigidity proved to be the best predictor for homesickness. These patterns are not, however, always con rmed for other samples (cf. van Tilburg et al., 1996). Turning from personal to situational factors, ‘geographic distance’ is also important for the current investigation. Among students, Fisher et al. (1986) found homesickness to be higher for those more distant from home (although, notably, distance from home did not make a difference among boarding school children). Needing further investigation are related factors such as psychological distance and possibilities for communication with home.


Margaret Stroebe et al.

Finally, with respect to the consequences or outcomes associated with homesickness among students, studies have also found a relationship between homesickness and a greater number of cognitive failures, poor concentration, handing in work late, decrements in work quality, and higher scores on anxiety and depression measures (Burt, 1993). This has recently been con rmed in a meta-analysis of four studies conducted by Archer et al. (1998). As Brewin et al. (1989) emphasized, such ndings suggest that homesickness is a potentially important phenomenon that may exercise a considerable in uence on academic performance, at least in the short term. A theoretical approach There has been surprisingly little exploration of the theoretical underpinnings of these phenomena and manifestations of homesickness, a notable exception being the analysis of Fisher (e.g. 1989). In fact, from a psychological perspective, there are good reasons to consider homesickness a ‘mini-grief’ experience (Stroebe, Stroebe, & Schut, 1993), and to draw on theoretical formulations in the eld of bereavement to derive hypotheses and explain phenomena (cf. Stroebe & Stroebe, 1987). It is well established that bereavement has severe mental and physical consequences for some, but not all, individuals. It is also known that the time course and symptomatology of grief are complex and varied (Stroebe, Stroebe & Hansson, 1993). If homesickness is understood as the emotional reaction to (temporary) loss of signi cant persons, then some — perhaps less extreme —parallels with reactions of grief following losses through death would be expected. Thus, insofar as homesickness is a grief experience, one would expect more homesickness the greater the degree of (perceived) separation from home. A recent bereavement-speci c model, the Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement (DPM, Stroebe & Schut, 1999) provides a framework for integrating some of the central propositions of two very different approaches, cognitive stress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and attachment (Bowlby, 1980) theories, both of which have been applied to the speci c stressor of bereavement. The DPM identi es two types of stressor that are relevant to the prediction of outcome (in terms of variables such as health and well-being); namely, those that are loss- versus restoration-oriented. Loss-orientation refers to concentration on, coping with, the loss experience itself, and restoration-orientation refers to efforts to adjust to the concurrent, changed and demanding situation. The model postulates the necessity of ‘oscillation’ between these two tasks, identifying the need both to come to terms with loss, and to adapt to the different environment. In the case of loss through death, loss-orientation would include missing the deceased person; in the case of homesickness, it would include missing the absent family and friends. Elements of attachment theory are clearly relevant here. One would expect more homesickness among those whose attachment is less secure (cf. Bowlby, 1980). Following the reasoning of attachment theory as applied to grief experiences (cf. Parkes, Stevenson-Hinde, & Marris, 1991), an insecure style of attachment would be a predictor of homesickness, which would lead to health consequences. Restoration-orientation following a death would include developing a new identity and new roles, independent of the deceased. After relocation it would seem likely that somewhat similar adjustments are needed (becoming a ‘college student’, member of new social, housing and academic groups) as are necessary following a loss through death. In line with cognitive stress theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), the DPM predicts that those individuals experiencing a severe stressor (relocation) who lack the resources

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(e.g. social support from home) would be unable to cope with the demands of the new situation (e.g. academic performance) and would suffer homesickness and possibly detrimental health consequences. Thus, the DPM predicts that attention to and oscillation between these two tasks, loss- and restoration-oriented, are necessary for successful adaptation. Similarly, we would predict that students’ well-being is dependent not only on the fact of having left home, but also on successful adjustment to the new situation. Thus, the DPM provides a theoretical basis for introducing two classes of variables into a structural equation model for empirical investigation; namely, those to do with missing home, friends, and so on, and adjustment dif culties in the new environment. Interestingly, Archer et al. (1998) recently identi ed two similar factors on a questionnaire measure of homesickness, representing attachment to home, and adjustment to the university. Purposes of the empirical study Taken together, what are the implications of this empirical and theoretical overview for further investigation of homesickness among students? The review of empirical studies identi es some emergent patterns of homesickness in relationship to personal and situational factors, but some con icting results. There is a need for replication of ndings and extension of the variables under investigation. We have emphasized the need for further investigation of the origins, manifestations and consequences of homesickness among vulnerable groups. From the outline above, it is evident that students leaving home for college belong in this category of vulnerable groups. Lacking still is not only information on predictors and outcomes, but also on component parts of homesickness derived from the implementation of standard validation techniques. Thus, the rst aim of this study was to provide a detailed examination of homesickness among college students. To this end, two studies of homesickness were conducted, one in the Netherlands, and one in the UK. This two-study investigation enabled some examination of cultural patterns of homesickness. To our knowledge, this research provides the rst cross-cultural examination of homesickness in both male and female students in their own countries. Thus, the additional factor of acculturation (i.e. moving abroad and adjusting to the new country) does not occur in the examination of homesickness here. Our research is also unique in that it focuses on two cultures similar in terms of general societal background, in that they are both western European, but different with respect to a central attachment theory-related variable noted above, namely, accessibility to home (as will be discussed later, accessibility is greater, in general, in the Netherlands). As the above review indicated, it is important to clarify the relationship between gender and homesickness among student samples. A further advantage of the two reported studies is that they used the same standardized homesickness measure. In addition, in each of the studies, the relationship of homesickness to a number of potentially important variables could be explored, including depression; self-liking; competence or self-esteem; and secure or con icted attachment to the family. The indices were standardized and thus provide useful within-culture information, which was the main focus of the analyses. Between-culture comparisons are to be made cautiously, since some of the measures employed differed between the two countries (e.g. one standardized depression scale was used in the UK, a different one in the Netherlands). However, given the paucity of research to date, and the intrinsic interest in comparing these phenomena across the two cultures,


Margaret Stroebe et al.

as well as within each culture, results are presented comparatively. In addition, a number of demographic variables are analysed (e.g. gender; age; living arrangements). Following the theoretical predictions outlined above, it was expected that homesickness would be prevalent and associated with distress and poorer mental health in the student samples of both cultures, but that prevalence would be greater in the culture with lower accessibility to home (UK). Following the DPM, it was predicted that missing home and dif culty adjusting to the new situation would be antecedent to distress (rather than vice versa). Also, that those who missed home more would be the ones to have more dif culty adapting to the new college situation (subscales on the homesickness questionnaire). Furthermore, it was predicted that homesickness would be greater among those living further from home, irrespective of culture, since, following attachment theory, the possibility of meeting up with signi cant others should reduce separation anxiety and distress. Again, also following attachment theory, it was predicted that students with greater parental con ict1 or insecure attachment patterns would feel more homesick. Homesickness was expected to occur in both male and female students of both cultures, but it was predicted that female rates would be higher (they could feel more comfortable admitting to homesickness). Finally, it was predicted that a longer time period since leaving home (or being at university) would be associated with lower homesickness (i.e. an adjustment effect), but that some students would still suffer homesickness even after being away for a longer period.

Study 1: The Netherlands (NL) Respondents and procedure
All new-intake students entering the Faculty of Social Sciences of Utrecht University were mailed a questionnaire containing the homesickness scale. This took place in January 1995. Four weeks later a reminder was mailed to non-respondents. This resulted in 482 completed and returned questionnaires (response rate: 65%). Eighty per cent of the respondents were female, which is similar to the proportion of females entering this faculty. The mean age was 19.6 years (SD= 2.1). Twenty-nine per cent still lived at home with their parents, 48.9% had moved from the parental home to lodgings, 19.6%had recently moved from one place of lodging to another) and 2.6%had moved back from lodgings to the parental home. Most of the data analyses were conducted on the 48.9%relocated students, while those living at home were included in speci c analyses for control purposes (see below). The Utrecht students are referred to here as the NL sample.

Measures Socio-demographic information
Respondents were asked questions about their age, gender, previous living situation, present living situation, and the duration of their present living situation.

The Utrecht Homesickness Scale (UHS)
Designed to assess the extent of homesickness, the UHS was developed in the following manner (see van Vliet, Stroebe, &Schut, 1998). Items were initiallyderived from previous research (Carden & Feight, 1991 ; Eurelings-Bontekoe et al., 1994 ; Fisher, Elder, &Peacock, 1990; Fisher, Frazer, &Murray,


This prediction was tentative, given that the evidence on con icted relationships is mixed (cf. Archer, 1999, pp. 170–172).

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1984, 1985, 1986 ; Fisher & Hood, 1987, 1988). Items derived from a pilot study, in which 100 respondents were asked to give a de nition of homesickness, supplemented the original list. This preliminary questionnaire was given to 300 social science students, who were asked to rate the extent to which 51 items were associated with homesickness. This resulted in a list of 45 items. This version of the questionnaire was then given to 117 third year psychology students. These students were asked to rate the extent to which they had experienced the 45 homesicknessrelated aspects in the past four weeks. This led to a third version of the questionnaire, which was used in the Utrecht Homesickness Project. The 45 items assess the extent to which students experienced these various aspects of homesickness in the past 4 weeks (using the answer categories ‘not’, ‘weak’, ‘moderate’, ‘strong’, ‘very strong’). Aprincipal component analysis (minimum eigenvalue > 1) with a varimax rotation over the 45 items was computed for students who had felt homesick in the past four weeks (N = 151) resulting in nine factors. On the basis of a scree plot, we used the rst ve factors which were clearly interpretable and explained 57% of the variance. These ve factors correspond closely to the features that, according to most authors, constitute homesickness: missing family, missing friends, having adjustment dif culties, ruminations about home and feeling lonely. Based on these ve factors, a reduced set of items (20) was selected, to ensure that the determinant of the correlation matrix would be > 0. This is necessary to avoid co-linearity of sets of items. A second principal component analysis with a varimax rotation over these 20 items and the restriction that ve factors should be extracted, revealed that the items loaded as expected on the relevant ve factors. This last procedure was repeated with all the students (N = 439) and revealed the same factor loading pattern. Within this set of 20 variables, the ve factors explained 73% of the variance. On the basis of the ve-factor structure, scales were computed resulting in very acceptable Cronbach’s alphas (see Table 1). This set of subscales will be referred to as the Utrecht Homesickness Scale (UHS). Note that if there were missing values, ‘list-wise deletion’ was used.

Additional measures
Students were also asked how often they had experienced homesickness in the past 4 weeks (never, rarely, sometimes, often, very often). A discriminant analysis whereby the ve UHS scales are used to predict whether or not students endorsed feeling homesick (never versus rarely, sometimes, often, very often) in the past 4 weeks revealed that 83% were correctly classi ed. Furthermore, there was a strong correlation between the total homesickness score and the frequency of homesickness in the past 4 weeks (r = .71) which indicates that the UHS scale is closely related to a direct measure of homesickness, even though the scale does not mention homesickness speci cally. The Dutch version of the Symptoms Check List (SCL-90; Arrindell & Ettema, 1975) was used as an indicator of mental health status of the NL sample. Only the depressive mood subscale (a = .92) and the total health score (a = .97) were used for this part of the investigation. Personality factors were measured by means of a Dutch translation of the Golberg Bi-polar Big 5 (De Jong, van Eck, & van den Bos, 1994 ; e.g. Goldberg, 1992). Only emotional stability (a = .85) was used for this investigation. A Dutch translation of the Attachment Style Measure (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) was used to assess insecure (that is, avoidant and anxious/ambivalent, see Hazan & Shaver, 1987) versus secure attachment. This particular scale was chosen because of its conciseness and applicability for use with these student samples.

Statistical analyses
Comparable to what was done in the pre-test described previously, we rst conducted factor analysis on the homesickness scale which identi ed the ve subscales. A principal component analysis (minimum eigenvalue > 1) with a varimax rotation over the 45 items resulted in nine factors. On the basis of a scree plot, we used the rst ve factors which were clearly interpretable


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Table 1. Utrecht Homesickness Scale factor structure and reliabilities (NL sample) Factor (1) Percentage of explained variance Item 62% (2) 15% (3) 9% (4) 8% (5) 6%

Factor loadings (1) Missing family (a = .90) Missing your parents Missing your family Missing home Feeling missed by your family (2) Loneliness (a = .85) Feeling lonely Feeling unloved Feeling isolated from the rest of the world Feeling uprooted (3) Missing friends (a = .87) Longing for acquaintances Searching for familiar faces Missing people whom you trust and can talk with Missing your friends (4) Adjustment dif culties (a = .88) Finding it dif cult adjusting to a new situation Feeling uncomfortable in a new situation Feeling lost in the new situation Having dif culties in getting used to new customs (5) Ruminations about home (a = .80) Having thoughts that an old situation was better than here and now Regretting the decision to leave an old situation Continuously having thoughts about home Repeatedly thinking of the past Total homesickness (a = .94) (20 items) Note. The questions were formulated in the following manner: Could you please indicate to what extent you have experienced the following in the past 4 weeks: Missing your parents: not–weak–moderate– strong–very strong. N = 439.

.89 .87 .74 .74 .21 .12 .09 .08 .16 .19 .25 .36 .23 .15 .17 .03

.12 .13 .12 .15 .78 .75 .72 .64 .22 .18 .31 .14 .27 .44 .46 .14

.20 .19 .21 .19 .22 .22 .14 .21 .83 .73 .71 .70 .15 .06 .22 .38

.06 .09 .18 .15 .25 .15 .33 .35 .19 .23 .07 .15 .77 .71 .69 .68

.16 .14 .37 .04 .09 .07 .22 .22 .16 .12 .20 .14 .16 .23 .21 .26

.16 .10 .41 .18

.15 .21 .08 .45

.18 .08 .24 .28

.28 .31 .13 ± .01

.81 .79 .68 .52

and explained 57% of the variance. These ve factors correspond closely to the factors identi ed in the pre-test on the UHS, namely missing family, missing friends, having adjustment dif culties, ruminations about home and feeling lonely. Then we carried out a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) to test differences in homesickness scores between the UK and NL samples. We then computed path analyses (using LISREL8.1), in order to examine multiple relationships simultaneously. We hypothesized identical

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models for both cultures, assuming that the patterns of associations would be similar. We examined models of the relationships between homesickness and its putative antecedents and consequences, in terms of both overall scores and subscale scores. Precise details of these models are given in the results section. Several t indices, as described by Jaccard and Wan (1996), are appropriate for our investigation of path models. To demonstrate the overall degree of correspondence between predicted and observed covariance matrices, the x2 statistic with p > .05 indicates that a perfect t model does exist in the population. The goodness-of- t index (GFI > .90) indicates goodness of t. The standardized root mean square residual (SRMR < .10) indicates a deviation of less than .10 correlation units on average between predicted and observed correlations. The root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA < .08) implies an adequate model and < .05 implies a good model with the p value for close t (CFit) being non-signi cant (> .05). CFI > .90 implies a good t.

Study 2: The United Kingdom (UK) Respondents and procedure
During the autumn term of 1996 new-intake students at Cardiff University were asked to participate in a student survey. Questionnaires were administered in October and November and 280 completed questionnaires were returned, representing approximately a 60% response rate. Seventy-two per cent of the respondents were female. The mean age was 18.8 years (SD = 2.1). All respondents had moved from the parental home to lodgings on campus. The Cardiff students are referred to here as the UK sample.

An English translation of the Utrecht Homesickness Scale (UHS) was used to measure the extent of homesickness. The reliabilities of the scales were comparable to the NLsample: missing the family (a = .85), loneliness (a = .84), missing friends (a = .78), adjustment dif culties (a = .84), ruminations about home (a = .86) and the total score for homesickness (a = .93). Again, respondents were also asked to indicate how often they had felt homesick during the past 4 weeks. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961) was used to give a reliable measure of current level of depression (a = .82). The Self-liking/Selfcompetence Scale was used to assess self-esteem (a = .91) (cf. Tafarodi & Swann, 1995). An adapted version of the Con ict Tactics Scale (cf. Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996) was used to ascertain type of family background of the UK respondents. The Con ict Tactics Scale consists of six subscales with similar, acceptable alpha levels (on average .72) which assess the extent to which parents are perceived as handling con icts with the respondents in certain ways. The items used here re ected three factors, that is, verbal reasoning (three items), verbal aggression (six items) and physical aggression (three items) of either father or mother. Selection of these items from the original, much longer scale was thought to be less intrusive and easier for respondents to answer, while still providing a measure of the three factors. The students were also asked to state the name of their home town. On the basis of this information, distances could be calculated between their home and their university lodgings.

Statistical analyses
The analyses described above for Study 1 apply here too.

The results section is structured in three parts. In the rst section results on the NL sample are reported. In the second section the same is done for the UK sample. In the last section a comparison is made between the two samples.


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Study 1: NL Homesickness Almost 50%of the students reported having felt homesick at least some of the time after having started their new education (N = 230). There were no differences between males and females with respect to homesickness intensity. The intensity of homesickness, as measured by the UHS subscales (range: 1 (not experienced) to 5 (very strongly)) revealed that on average the highest scores were obtained for missing friends (M = 2.38, SD = 1.02) and missing the family (M = 2.15, SD = 0.95).2 The other dimensions scored were adjustment dif culties (M = 1.80, SD = 0.88), ruminations about home (M = 1.52, SD = 0.71) and loneliness (M = 1.79, SD = 0.87). These averaged to a total mean score of 1.93 (SD = 0.71). Antecedents and consequences of homesickness The NL data set offered the possibility of comparisons between students still living at home and those who had relocated.3 This provided the opportunity to test whether relocation (R) would indeed be associated with depression (D) which, in and of itself, we assumed would be associated with homesickness (H). We must be cautious, given the cross-sectional design of our studies, in assuming mediation between the R–D–H variables. Based on Baron and Kenny (1986), a requirement for mediation with this data set would be that relocation and depression are signi cantly associated; in other words, there must be an effect to be mediated. In our data we nd that relocation and depression are not signi cantly associated and therefore a mediation analysis is not appropriate. Nevertheless, a path analysis is possible if we regress depression on relocation and homesickness, and regress homesickness on relocation (see Fig. 1). Our results show a signi cant path from relocation to homesickness (b = .21) a signi cant path from homesickness to depression, controlling for relocation (b = .62), and a nonsigni cant direct path from relocation to depression (b = ± .05). Showing that the two component paths of the indirect effect are each signi cant is not the same as showing that the indirect effect is signi cant. Testing for an indirect path (Sobel, 1982), revealed that the indirect effect of relocation on depression is signi cant (b = .13). It seems reasonable to conclude, then, that the data are consistent with an indirect effect of relocation on depression by means of the intervening variable homesickness. While there are good reasons to argue that there is an indirect effect of relocation on depression through homesickness, it is evident that this effect, though signi cant, is quite small, and not strong enough to produce an overall effect of R on D. The model shown in Fig. 1 was also tested using the SCL-90 total score as the health measure, instead of using the depression subscale. This showed an almost identical solution. The analysis provides further evidence that the assumed pattern is justi ed, and that it is not just due to some correspondence between depression and homesickness. The pattern suggests that relocation may be an antecedent for homesickness but not for depressive moods or general ill-health, and that homesickness may be an important antecedent for ill-health. Having found evidence for this relationship, structural equation models could be tested with respect to the effects of emotional stability, gender and duration of stay on homesickness and depression (see Fig. 2). The
2 3

Controlling for age and duration of stay in order to make comparisons with the UK sample possible. Some students who had not moved also reported being homesick (15%) in the past 4 weeks. The vast majority of them (90%) reported that they experienced homesickness only ‘rarely’ or ‘sometimes’.

Homesickness among students in two cultures


Figure 1. Model of relocation, homesickness and depression for NL students.

literature suggests that emotional instability is a good predictor for both homesickness (Eurelings-Bontekoe et al., 1996) and depression (cf. Watson & Pennebaker, 1989). Thus one could assume that emotional stability (the opposite of emotional instability) would explain the variance of depression. However, we nd that even though reduced, homesickness retains an effect on depression. This suggests that irrespective of the level of emotional stability, homesickness is a precursor for depression. Furthermore, the emotionally unstable, as expected, have higher levels of homesickness and depression. What we also nd is that the longer one is away from home, the less intense the homesickness reaction, which suggests that adaptation to the new situation takes place. In order to create a more comprehensive picture, a model was formulated which included the subscales of the UHS instead of the total homesickness score. The assumptions were that (1) adjustment dif culties would be associated with missing family and friends, ruminations about home and loneliness; (2) missing family and friends, in turn, would be associated with ruminations about home and loneliness; (3) ruminations would also be associated to loneliness and depression and (4) loneliness in turn to depression. Results with respect to this model revealed that in principle the assumptions were correct, if two modi cations were incorporated. These were: establishing a link between missing family and friends, and removing the path from missing family to loneliness. The choice was made to let the errors of missing friends and family correlate because no prior hypotheses were made as to a causal relationship between both features and to delete the non-signi cant path.4 Figure 3 indicates how the homesickness subscales are related and how these are linked to the measured antecedents and consequences. To enhance the visual impact of the model, the thickness of paths corresponds to the size of the path coef cients. Figure 3 suggests that to become depressed one has to experience adjustment


For the sake of comparison with the forthcoming UK model the non-signi cant paths between missing friends and loneliness, gender and adjustment dif culties and duration of stay and missing family were not removed from the model.


Margaret Stroebe et al.

Figure 2. Model of NL sample.

dif culties and consequently loneliness and to ruminate about home. If the relocated students experience severe adjustment dif culties these do seem to go hand in hand with missing family and friends, ruminations about home and loneliness. Speci cally, loneliness is most strongly associated with depression. Furthermore, the analyses suggest that the best predictor for adjustment dif culties in this study is emotional stability (b = ± .41). Emotional stability also has a strong relationship to depression (b = ± .45) and, to a lesser extent, to missing friends (b = ± .20) and loneliness (b = ± .15). The slight association of duration of stay with total homesickness disappeared when its relationship was tested on the ve separate homesickness subscales. Study 2: UK Homesickness More than 80% of the students reported having felt homesick at least some of the time after having started their new education (N = 280). The intensity of homesickness as measured by the UHS subscales (likewise controlling for age and the number of days away from home) revealed that on average the highest scores in the UK were obtained for missing family (M = 2.93, SD = 0.97) and missing friends (M = 2.72, SD = 0.94). The other dimensions scored were adjustment dif culties (M = 2.05, SD = 0.84), ruminations about home (M = 1.66, SD = 0.86) and loneliness (M = 1.95, SD = 0.92). These averaged to a total mean score of 2.26 (SD = 0.73). Antecedents and consequences of homesickness Although the hypothesis could not be tested with the UK sample, it seems reasonable to assume, based on the NL data, that relocation would be associated with homesickness, which in turn would be associated with depression and not vice versa (of course, similar cautions about mediating variables to those expressed for Study 1 are in order here too).

Homesickness among students in two cultures


Figure 3. Detailed model of NL sample.

Accepting this premise and despite the differences in the depression and personality scales used in the UK and the NL, what one would expect is comparable patterns of correlations, since these should be the same, irrespective of the particular instrument used. We formulated a structural equation model analogous to the one used in the NL study, examining the effects of self-esteem, gender and duration of stay based on homesickness and depression for the UK students (see Fig. 4). This analysis revealed that, analogous to the NL data (Fig. 2), homesickness is associated with depression, and that low self-esteem can be considered a risk factor for becoming homesick and depressed. To see whether or not homesickness is the precursor for self-esteem instead of self-esteem being the precursor as hypothesized, the alternative model was tested. Results did not show a signi cant effect of homesickness on self-esteem. Thus, low selfesteem, like low emotional stability, can rather be considered a vulnerability factor for homesickness. Again, we see that after controlling for self-esteem the relationship between homesickness and depression remains signi cant. This suggests that homesickness is associated with depression irrespective of the level of self-esteem, while, if one has low self-esteem, the risk of becoming homesick and depressed is greater. The UK results also reveal the slight negative effect of duration of stay: the longer students live in a new situation the lower the level of homesickness. In contrast to the NL data, the UK data do reveal a gender difference. Female students (M = 2.41, SD = 0.74) report higher levels of homesickness (F(278, 1) = 15.85, p < .001), than male students (M = 2.04, SD = 0.60). Analogous to the NL study, we formulated a more detailed model including the UHS subscales (Fig. 5). This revealed a similar pattern of correlations, although there are some obvious differences. Adjustment dif culties are assumed to be the crux of


Margaret Stroebe et al.

the model and the data con rm this. From adjustment dif culties there are two paths that are connected indirectly to depression, one via loneliness and the second via ruminations about home. Self-esteem (a personality trait which was assumed to have some commonality with emotional stability) has a similar relationship to adjustment dif culties and depression in the UK sample as emotional stability in the NL sample. As demonstrated previously with respect to the total homesickness score, when analysed at the subscale level, females in the UK study report having more adjustment dif culties than males. This would indicate that the difference in homesickness mainly lies in females reporting more adjustment dif culties. Study 1 and Study 2 comparison There were a number of signi cant differences between the two national samples. Dutch students were older (M = 19.2 years) than British students (M = 18.8 years; t (478) = 2.95, p < .01); and Dutch students (M = 198.8 days) had spent a longer number of days away from home than British students (M = 50.1 days; t (224) = 10.98, p < .001). Furthermore, there were proportionately more females in the NL sample than the UK sample (82% versus 72%). The implications of these differences are discussed later. Homesickness After controlling for age and duration of relocation, it was still found that the NLand UK students differed considerably with respect to homesickness, with the UK students reporting more intense homesickness. Univariate differences were found for three of the ve subscales (missing family, missing friends, adjustment dif culties) and the total homesickness score. Adjusted means for the subscales and for total homesickness for the two samples are presented in Table 2. Furthermore, when asked, in the separate question about general feelings of homesickness, the UK students more frequently endorsed having felt homesick (see Table 3).

Figure 4. Model of UK sample.

Homesickness among students in two cultures


Figure 5. Detailed model of UK sample.

These analyses indicate not only that the UK students are more often homesick, but that they are so to a greater extent. Antecedents and consequences of homesickness The global models (Figs 2 and 4) demonstrate that homesickness is related to depression in both cultures and that low self-esteem or emotional instability are linked to higher levels of self-reported homesickness and depression. More possibly, however, the longer the stay in the new situation the less homesick and consequently less depressed one tends to be. However, the evidence also suggests that there may be cultural differences with respect to gender differences in homesickness. The more detailed models (Figs 3 and 5) have the same basic structure, although there are some differences. In the UK, females are more likely to experience adjustment dif culties than are males (b = .15) and the longer a UK student has experienced the new situation the less he or she is inclined to miss the family (b = ± .12), effects which are non-signi cant in the NL study. To enhance comparisons between the cultures, the geographical distance to the parental home (data not available in the NL sample) was not included here in the UK model. However, if included, the pattern remained the same and revealed that distance from home was only reliably associated with missing the family (b = .19). Attachment style and family background We conducted further analyses to explore the association between attachment style and family background variables with homesickness. In the NLstudy the effects of insecure attachment on relocation, the homesickness features, depression and emotional stability


Margaret Stroebe et al.

Table 2. Mean scores for the homesickness subscales for the NL and UK samples Adjusted means per scale Missing family Missing friends Loneliness Adjustment dif culties Ruminations about home Total homesickness *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001. NL 2.148 2.378 1.788 1.800 1.518 1.926 UK 2.925 2.715 1.951 2.046 1.658 2.259 F(1,495) 64.6** 11.6*** 3.1 7.9** 2.9 20.7***

Table 3. Frequency distribution of having felt homesick by study Never NL UK 51.3% 17.9% Rarely 25.2% 42.5% Sometimes 17.8% 29.6% Often 4.3% 7.9% Very often 1.3% 2.1% N 230 280

were explored. The analysis revealed that insecurely attached individuals had a higher probability of being less emotionally stable (b = ± .38), more lonely (b = .16) (as measured on a subscale of the UHS) and more depressed (b = .11). It is worth noting that only 5% of the sample fell within the insecure attachment category ‘anxious/ ambivalent’—since one might expect this category to be most dependent on home (and therefore homesick) —while 24% could be classi ed as ‘avoidant’. In the same fashion, the associations between perceived parental con ict tactics (reasoning, verbal aggression and physical threat) and the homesickness features, depression and self-esteem were explored in the UK sample. This analysis revealed that the perceived verbal aggression of the mother was associated with a reduced likelihood of missing the family (b = ± .17) and that the perceived physical threat of the father was associated with an increased likelihood of having adjustment dif culties, as measured on the UHS (b = .23). It is interesting to note that there is a stronger association between missing friends and loneliness in the UK than in the NL sample —possibly due to the fact that home and friends are more accessible in NL due to both geographical proximity and the free availability of public transport. While there is a weaker association between loneliness and depression in the UK than in the NLsample, caution must be observed with respect to interpreting this comparison, given the differences in the severity of depression measured in the two samples (see also discussion).

The overall picture obtained from the results of the two studies is that homesickness is quite prevalent among new-intake college students both in the Netherlands and the UK. These results support the general ndings of investigators reviewed above (cf.

Homesickness among students in two cultures


Eurelings-Bontekoe et al., 1994; Fisher, 1989; van Tilburg, 1998). However, there are substantial differences between the two countries in susceptibility. Students in the UK are substantially more homesick. Whereas approximately half of the Dutch students said they had been homesick at least to some extent since coming to college, this was true for more than 80% of the students at the British university. This gure is higher than that reported by other investigators (e.g. Fisher & Hood, 1987), possibly due to differences in the measures used. Whereas 5% of the Dutch students often felt homesick, this was true for 10% of the British ones. Not only were more of them homesick, but they suffered more intensely from it. They missed both their family and their friends more, and they had greater adjustment dif culties than the Dutch students. There were also non-signi cant tendencies for the British students to be more lonely and to ruminate more about home. This cross-cultural comparison is, to our knowledge, the rst that uses the same instrument and controls for confounding factors (e.g. duration at college and time span of homesickness; age). For all other studies it is dif cult to compare the amount or the intensity of homesickness for a speci c period at college. This result raises interesting questions about the source of the cultural differences, which we discuss below. To what extent have our results shown that homesickness is associated with, or even a causal factor in, distress or depression? In our view, the association is strong, and indications are that homesickness affects distress or depression. The limitations of structural equation modelling must be taken into account in making such causal interpretations, particularly in cross-sectional studies such as ours (MacCullum & Austin, 2000). In our view, however, the results showed more support for our hypothesized model (homesickness preceding depression) than feasible alternatives (e.g. depression and homesickness occurring simultaneously). First, while relocation per se does not show a signi cant relationship to distress or depression, the path analysis suggests that homesickness mediates these negative health consequences. This implies that it is not distress or depression that precedes homesickness, but that homesickness may actually bring about distress or depression. This follows hypotheses formulated from the DPM: relocation would be antecedent to both loss (of family and home) and change (adjustment to the new situation) which themselves are associated with distress, rather than vice versa. Homesickness seems to play a mediating role between the stressor and outcome. This tentative conclusion must be further tested empirically using a longitudinal design. So far we can say that there is some justi cation for viewing homesickness as a ‘mini-grief’ experience, with consequences not unlike (if not as extreme) as those following bereavement (cf. Stroebe & Stroebe, 1987). For example, the data t this interpretation better than a conceptualization of homesickness as only an aspect of emotional instability. The results shown in Fig. 2 are indicative of this. The relationship between homesickness and depressed mood remains strong even when the vulnerability factor of emotional instability is entered into the equation. It is plausible that homesick, depressed students who are maladapted to their new surroundings would be unlikely to function well academically—or in other respects, for that matter (cf. Archer et al., 1998; Burt, 1993). For 10%of the British and 5%of the Dutch who suffer frequently from homesickness, this seems likely, but there are still larger proportions who suffer sometimes, and who may add to the size of this risk group. A longitudinal follow-up investigation would be required to validate such postulated causal chains (see below). Such a study also needs to provide further investigation of parameters of the DPM, e.g. the oscillation principle, and the relationship of insecure styles of attachment to coping strategies.


Margaret Stroebe et al.

As expected, students who have been at college longer were found to be slightly less homesick, although some indeed remain homesick even at longer durations. Given this nding, it would seem important to target students early on to try to facilitate their adjustment away from home. How could this be approached? The data suggested that, not only is homesickness associated with and probably antecedent to depression, but that personal feelings of competence or stability mediated this relationship, as measured by an emotional stability scale (NL) or self-liking/competence scale (UK). One suggestion would therefore be to work with students to raise their feelings of competence and, perhaps, to develop their self-esteem and perceived self-ef cacy, e.g. by monitoring their successes over the rst few weeks of the semester. Patterns emerging from the path analyses on separate subscales of homesickness suggest further aspects that intervention might focus on, namely, those to do with adjustment to the college situation. We noted the crucial role that adjustment dif culties to the college situation may play in relocated students missing family and friends, ruminating about home and feeling lonely, and showed that loneliness is linked to depression. We further learnt that emotionally unstable students are particularly prone not only to having adjustment dif culties but also that these are the ones who frequently score highly on the homesickness subscales. Turning to the cultural differences: why should UK students be more homesick than those in the NL? Our original hypothesis was that accessibility to home would make the critical difference, and it seems likely that this is at least a partial explanation. It is noteworthy that results on the geographic indicator (distance from home) showed that there was only an increase in the likelihood of high scores on one homesickness subscale, namely, missing the family (which could be interpreted as supportive of the attachment theory predictions). Further investigation of the accessibility to home variable would be useful, particularly in relationship to geographic distance. In this context, it is interesting to note that Fisher found no relationship with distance from home among boarding school children (Fisher, Murray, & Frazer, 1985) but did among college students (Fisher, Frazer, & Murray, 1986). Perhaps the critical difference between school and college students is the fact that the latter are more free to come and go between college and home, whereas boarding school pupils are typically only allowed home at set holiday periods. Accessibility, or a perceived sense of closeness, may be crucial. Another curious nding that needs to be considered alongside the cultural difference in homesickness, is the fact that UK females were the ones to suffer most from homesickness. We can only speculate about the reason for this. Could it be that female students, in general, are indeed more homesick than males as we predicted they would be, but that, in the NL sample this was mitigated by going home at weekends, which students in NL, as opposed to UK, frequently do? The accessibility of home is greater in NL than it is in UK, due to the comparative geographic proximity (the maximum distance from home in NLwould be no more than a couple of hours), and the provision to all Dutch students of free public transportation nationwide. Perhaps this is of more bene t to females than males, given indications that females are more relationshiporiented than males (cf. de Ridder, 2000). Finally, following attachment theory and the DPM, we made the prediction that those students who experienced problematic relationships with their parents would be the ones to feel more homesick—a somewhat counter-intuitive prediction, given that one could also imagine that problems are well left behind. In fact, there was some evidence that attachment insecurity (NL) or con ict with parents (UK) were related

Homesickness among students in two cultures


to certain aspects of homesickness. Interestingly too, a differentiated picture emerged in the UK data: while mother’s perceived aggression was associated with reduced homesickness (missing family subscale), perceived physical threat on the part of a father was associated with increased homesickness (adjustment subscale). Thus, though partially supportive, the results do not provide unequivocal support for the predictions from attachment theory. However, it is questionable whether the operationalizations we have used are adequate indices of secure versus insecure attachment. As noted above, these aspects of the study are exploratory. The results are intriguing enough to merit further investigation of the relationship between attachment and homesickness. The fact that Brewin et al. (1989) found dependency on others to be a predictor of homesickness adds weight to the argument that relationship to family (particularly parental) members may be one of the most critical variables, and one to be explored further in future investigations. Thus, attachment theory emerges as a potentially important theoretical perspective for homesickness research, and a necessary one for further integration in the more speci c DPM. In conclusion, it can be stated that homesickness is a widespread problem among students who have recently moved to college. It occurs more frequently among students in the UK than in NL. This could re ect a difference in accessibility to home. Female students in the UK are the highest risk group. Perhaps females are more vulnerable when there is lack of access to home. Homesickness is associated with distress and depression—acting, we think, as their antecedent—and it is associated with other debilitating psychological states, including loneliness. Given the links identi ed in these data sets, there are good reasons to argue that homesickness is indeed a ‘mini-grief’ phenomenon. Like bereavement, the mental health consequences are negative and debilitating. In our view, the patterns identi ed in this cross-sectional investigation of homesickness need further investigation, and theoretical understanding of the phenomena is essential. The ‘mini-grief’ interpretation deriving from the DPMhas explanatory potential. Thus, we are now starting a new longitudinal study. This focuses on styles of attachment and coping, aiming to test predictions from the theoretical perspective outlined above.

This paper was prepared while Miles Hewstone was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford. He gratefully acknowledges nancial support provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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Means, standard deviations and correlation coef cients of the NL and UK samples
SD 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pearson correlations 10 11

Margaret Stroebe et al.


NL sample (N = 204) 1 Emotional stability 2 Depression 3 Secure–insecure 4 Gender 5 Duration 6 Adjustment dif culties 7 Missing family 8 Missing friends 9 Loneliness 10 Ruminations about home 11 Total score homesickness 1 1.00 ± 0.71 ± 0.38 ± 0.07 0.10 ± 0.41 ± 0.29 ± 0.38 ± 0.51 ± 0.38 ± 0.49 1.00 0.44 0.13 ± 0.07 0.54 0.39 0.42 0.73 0.52 0.64 1.00 0.10 ± 0.07 0.21 0.12 0.12 0.36 0.20 0.25 1.00 ± 0.16 0.00 0.10 0.04 0.03 0.01 0.05 ± ± ± ± ± ± 5 6 1.00 0.14 0.11 0.16 0.09 0.07 0.15 1.00 0.49 0.52 0.76 0.60 0.83 1.00 0.60 0.41 0.51 0.76 7 4 3 1.00 0.50 0.56 0.81 8 2 9

5.40 31.68 1.29 1.80 198.00 1.73 2.09 2.28 1.72 1.49 1.86

1.29 12.07 0.45 0.40 201.61 0.88 0.92 1.02 0.84 0.67 0.70

1.00 0.61 0.81

1.00 0.79 10

1.00 11

UK sample (N = 215) 1 Self-liking self-competence 2 BDI 3 Distance 4 Gender 5 Duration 6 Adjustment dif culties 7 Missing family 8 Missing friends 9 Loneliness 10 Ruminations about home 11 Total score homesickness 1 1.00 ± 0.53 ± 0.03 ± 0.11 0.05 ± 0.37 ± 0.02 ± 0.26 ± 0.40 ± 0.31 ± 0.33 1.00 ± 0.04 0.04 0.00 0.39 0.12 0.38 0.50 0.45 0.45 1.00 0.07 ± 0.02 0.09 0.14 0.11 0.13 0.24 0.18 1.00 0.06 0.18 0.15 0.14 0.15 0.09 0.18

73.73 7.87 286.11 1.72 49.62 2.05 2.92 2.73 1.95 1.63 2.26

10.78 4.98 908.27 0.45 12.54 0.82 0.96 0.95 0.91 0.83 0.72

± ± ± ± ± ±

1.00 0.07 0.16 0.13 0.12 0.10 0.15

1.00 0.37 0.61 0.74 0.63 0.82

1.00 0.48 0.34 0.37 0.65

1.00 0.68 0.69 0.87

1.00 0.65 0.84

1.00 0.82


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