Homesickness - It Isn't Just for Campers

Louise Fritts Johnson
May 2015

With technology, there is simply more to miss. Here are some tips on how to get through it.

One of the more interesting challenges borne of this era of connectedness and technology is that camp counselors are getting more homesick because they are remaining strongly connected to friends and family at home via social media and not completely embracing their summer camp experience. Counselors, like us all, are finding it harder to unplug. Not taking a break from technology might be making you more homesick because you are “missing” more.

As all camp directors know, the role of counselor is paramount in the camp experience. You help us to set the tone each session, implement our strategies to make camp a fulfilling and enriching experience for each camper, and, perhaps most important, exemplify the values we want to impart on our young campers.

Counselors are chosen with great care, as you are on the front lines for our campers, so we want to ensure you are as comfortable and happy in your camp role as possible. Much staff training tends to be geared toward helping the staff adjust to camp, and then teaching you to be good counselors for the kids. But directors are typically aware that this experience is not just about the campers or about the camp as a whole; it’s also about counselors as individuals.

Making the camp experience your experience should also be an integral part of your summer at camp, because it’s an ideal place for you to learn, grow, and have positive social interactions.

So, is it possible that you are homesick? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to actively miss home to be suffering from a touch of homesickness. Homesickness is a natural emotional reaction to being away from family, friends, and familiar surroundings.

There are a few signs that might point to homesickness:

  • Are you feeling unwell?
  • Do you feel empty or lonely?
  • Are you feeling more sensitive or touchy than usual, especially at night?
  • Are you less interested in participating in activities with other counselors?
  • Are you having a hard time sleeping?
  • Are you eating more or less than usual?
  • Do you feel a strong need to talk and Skype with your friends more frequently than you are able to?

If you answered “yes” to a few of these (or if you experience any of these symptoms during the camp season), you might be homesick.

Ideas and Tactics to Combat Homesickness

Fortunately, you can take a number of steps to alleviate homesickness.

Ask for Help

Feeling homesick is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is very important to realize that feeling homesick is not abnormal. Homesickness isn’t just a camper issue; it can be an issue for all of us at one time or another.

Though it manifests itself in different ways and in varying degrees, most campers and counselors experience it at some point over the summer. Many foreign counselors miss their country and culture, as well as their families. Though American counselors also miss their families at times, some of them also just miss college, their friends, or their pets. All of these forms of missing home and missing the people and things we love are valid, and all of them can be triggered at different times for any number of reasons.

Don’t be afraid to talk about how you are feeling and ask for help. You might find that other staff members are feeling similarly and talking about it helps to make you feel less alone. But the key is not to dwell on it!

Voice Unintentional Blocks to Communication with Home

If, for some reason, you are not able to connect with your loved ones — whether there is a time difference or you forgot to bring along international stamps — do not hesitate to raise the matter with your director or staff coordinator. He or she will be more than happy to help you sort through those kinds of issues.

Eat Healthy, Regular Meals

Eating well, and regularly, is critical to sustain your health, energy, and a positive mindset. And a poor diet — or lack of nutrition of any kind — might be contributing to feelings of sadness. If you are not eating well because the menu isn’t a good fit for you, speak to your director about potential additional options that will enable you to eat better.

Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep eight hours a night, if possible. Sleep is critical to keep your energy up for yourself, as well as for all those enthused campers in your cabin. If you aren’t sleeping well, it might be because you are uncomfortable for some reason. Is there a way to alleviate that with a different mattress or pillow? Perhaps you are getting chilly, and an extra blanket is all you need.

Exercise

Take time out to do exercise you enjoy. Keeping physically active is a proven stress reliever. Anyone who runs or does yoga knows that taking time for yourself — especially when you have a lot of excited requests coming at you day in and day out — can be a lifesaver for your state of mind.

Implement Home Routines into Your Camp Experience

When you can, remember to take time to do some of the things you like doing at home while at camp. That might include reading, listening to music, talking to others, taking a long shower — whatever makes you feel happy and relaxed. If you are accustomed to always having a cup of tea before bedtime, making that happen at camp is likely something you can work out with your director.

Make a Calendar

Sometimes it helps to have a reminder that you are only at camp for a short amount of time. If you create a calendar that allows you to cross off each day as it passes, it will make the time go by and give you a sense of accomplishment too.

Focus on the Positive

Focus on what you like or look forward to doing at camp. Think about why you chose to become a counselor and remember what it is that you want to accomplish. It is also fun to make a list of all you do to contribute to the camp community. You might be surprised at the length of the list you come up with. You are an indispensable part of the camp experience.

Take a Mini-break

When you are feeling bogged down, tired, or overworked, it is far easier to get caught up in negative thoughts like missing home. Can you pop out to a store and shop for your own needs (and enjoy the air conditioning)? Can you go for a trail walk or take a late-night or early-morning paddle with a good friend? All of these activities help restore some control over your own life, which sometimes gets lost in the camp environment. When you do everything as a group — eat, sleep, duty schedules, etc. — it is nice to take a mini-break, on your own or with a good friend, and just breathe.

Write a Letter Instead

Try to decrease daily contact with home. This might seem counterintuitive, but it is a good idea to decrease the amount of time you communicate with friends and family from home via phone, text, or social media. Letter writing gives you a bit more space from the moment-to-moment pressures of technology and allows you to really think through what you want to say. Writing letters to people you care about at home is a great example to set for your campers, and people in your life from home will cherish a written letter from you.

Take It Day by Day

Work with your director and fellow staff to make a specific plan for the next short period of time if you are really feeling sad. Set specific goals and plans; outline exactly what you will be doing, and where you will be going. Stay busy and keep your energy up. And check back in with your supervisors if things don’t improve.

You are creating the magic for your campers; take some time to create a little magic for yourself. Your campers — and your state of mind — will thank you.

Photo courtesy of Louise Fritts Johnson, Camp Arcadia, Casco, Maine.

Louise Fritts Johnson is director at Camp Arcadia, a girls’ sleepaway camp in Casco, Maine, celebrating its 100th season in 2015. She can be reached at louise.johnson@camparcadia.com.