Homesickness And Acculturation Stress

Research has shown that upwards of 95 percent of young people report at least some homesickness during a multi-week stay away from home.

It isn’t always easy for international campers and staff to adjust to life at camp. © Can Stock Photo Inc./igordutina

Even for persons with more experience in being away from home—typically those chronologically older, such as staff—the prevalence rate of homesickness is only somewhat lower.

The point is that homesickness is normal. That’s a relief to any camper or counselor who feels uneasy with these feelings.

 

The linear distance from home has little to do with homesickness intensity. That’s because people, especially children, are poor at guessing the distance between home and the new environment.

The cultural contrast between home country and host country is what stresses people, not actual miles or kilometers. What is much easier to assess is how different a new place feels, which ends up as a strong determinant in missing home.

Of course, there are people who mentally repeat “I’m half a world away from home,” and they probably make themselves more homesick doing that. But that’s a psychological statement more than a geographical statement.

That’s Odd

Isn’t that what makes travel so exciting? The answer depends on attitude, of course. Novelty can be a thrill or a chill, largely due to one’s outlook.

In the remainder of this article, I’ll focus on some of the most common contributors to homesickness and acculturation stress in international campers and staff. Each leads to some recommended prevention or treatment strategies.

In my experience—both as a traveler and a trainer—the following factors are most likely to create angst among international campers and staff:

1. Language differences, which hinder self-expression.

The issue: Campers and staff for which English is a second language will struggle to share sophisticated ideas, sarcasm, and emotions when their fluency is developing. Feeling that one’s IQ has dropped a standard deviation or two can be difficult and isolating.

The solution: To help promote adjustment, it can be helpful to give internationals an opportunity to speak with anyone else at camp who speaks their native tongue. Just remember that a friendship composed entirely of native-country peers, rather than a mix of native- and host-country peers, impedes not only language skills, but overall adjustment. Be patient with English learners and help them make a diverse group of friends.

2. Cultural differences in food, humor, customs, and dress.

The issue: Things that are appetizing, humorous, or tasteful in one country may not be in another. Sensibilities, fashions, and traditions even vary from one ethnicity to another within a given country, making it easy to offend others, misunderstand others, or feel alone.

The solution: Encourage native campers and staff members to welcome international campers and staff with open arms, open minds, and an educational attitude. When natives work hard to understand visitors—showing a genuine interest in explaining native customs, as well as understanding foreign customs—intense homesickness and even prejudice can be prevented.

3. Environmental differences, such as climate and urban density.

The issue: When campers and staff come from urban settings into rural and rustic settings, the adjustment can be marked. International campers and staff will find insect pests, animal sounds, temperature and humidity differences, and the lack of some modern conveniences to be a challenge.

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