Macayla Bricarell’s cat, Lucy, may be sassy, but that’s exactly what the 22-year-old UF alumna missed about her cat when she was in Gainesville.
“Lucy’s personality is that of a puppy who loves her person. She will wait at the door for you and follows people around,” she said. “She doesn’t believe in personal space and loves to talk.”
Bricarell, who is now an intern at Disney, graduated from UF with a bachelor's degree in public relations in May. Although college was a fun journey, she said she missed the life she left behind, including her pets.
Going off to college can mean leaving things behind, including family, friends and pets, which may lead to homesickness.
Homesickness is defined as emotional sorrow some feel while being away from home and in a new environment. It can negatively affect productivity, cause depression and grief.
Homesickness can be caused by disruption of lifestyle, difficulty adapting and feelings of not belonging. All are common issues for college students.
Almost 70% of freshmen college students reported feeling homesick in 2016, according to a survey by the UCLA Higher Education Institute.
Bricarell said her freshman year was especially hard because she was also away from her childhood cat, Angel, who stayed behind at her parent’s home.
“She was like an old lady from the day she was born,” she said. “I missed her every day.”
Hunter Ann Oakley, a 20-year-old UF construction management junior, also said she struggles with homesickness.
Keeping herself busy with classes and the National Association of Women in Construction helps curb some of the homesickness, but she said she still misses her family and three dogs.
She especially misses her Toy Poodle, Hannah, her Shih Tzu, Cocoa, and her Yorkshire Terrier, Ruby, because they make her feel better when she’s alone.
Ways to deal with homesickness
Missing family, friends and pets while in a new place is completely normal and means a healthy relationship exists among them. It will take a while to adjust to new surroundings, according to WebMD.
“It gets better,” Oakley said. “It’s rough at first but it will get better, especially when you get more into what you’re doing and excited about your classes or seeing friends. You don’t forget about [family, friends and pets] by any means, but it just gets easier.”
Keep in touch with loved ones
While Bricarell was in Gainesville, she made sure to keep in touch with her dad, and he would send pictures of Angel and Lucy to her.
During school weeks, Oakley said she frequently talked to her family on the phone and would FaceTime her younger sister to see her dogs.
“I would text my sister and mom a lot, and my dad would call me on his lunch breaks,” she said.
Find a favorite place
Bricarell encourages incoming students to find a place that makes them feel at home in Gainesville.
“There’s a lot of cafes, record stores, bars, restaurants and even libraries,” she said. “Finding a place that makes you feel at home is the best thing because it grounds you.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bricarell coped with being away from her cats by going to animal shelters in Gainesville.
“I would go in the kitten room and hang out with the adult cats,” she said. “The cats there do need attention.”
For incoming students who are cat lovers, she recommends visiting Feeline Good Cat Cafe, a coffee bar and lounge space that partners with the Humane Society of North Central Florida to host adoptable cats in the shop.
Make new friends
Bricarell said it’s important for students to find a family.
“I’ve had friend groups since I started college and it made me so happy and kept me from feeling homesick because they are my home,” she said. “I met my core group by talking to two people at a pool party for PACE and then met their friends.”
UF offers more than 900 student organizations. Students can take the involvement quiz to find an organization that best fits their interests, and they can attend GatorMania on Tuesday to connect with and learn about different organizations.
UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center offers resources for those struggling with mental health, including blogs on how to deal with loss and loneliness and a weekly podcast that covers mental health. The CWC also offers counseling, crisis support, brief consultations and more for students who struggle with stress, anxiety or any other concerns relating to new surroundings.
Not everyone is nervous about finding a new home in Gainesville, however.
Katie Russell, an 18-year-old Jacksonville native who will be attending UF in the Fall as a chemistry major, said she is excited to come to UF and isn’t worried about being homesick.
She said her older brother went to Florida Atlantic University last year.
“I’ve seen my brother do this. I know I can do this. I’m ready,” she said.
She said some of her friends at her high school will also be attending UF, so she wouldn’t be leaving many friends behind.
However, Russell said she is worried about adapting to independence and figuring out who she is away from her family.
She also said she is going to miss her four dogs, especially her Yorkshire Terrier, Dixie. She said her family adopted Dixie as a rescue when she was 7 weeks old after Russell got a concussion in February.
“She’s like my little buddy,” she said. “She likes to cuddle with me.”
Should Russell feel homesick, she plans on dealing with it the same way her brother does by calling home three times a week.
“It’s a rule my mother made to my brother,” she said. “He has to call at least three times a week.”
Bricarell has one final message for incoming freshmen who may be concerned with being homesick.
“Starting a new part of your life is terrifying,” she said, “But the only way to get to the other side is through; may as well make the best of it. I’ve met so many amazing people and feel like I’ve become such a great person because of who I’ve met. You’re starting over with a blank canvas — have fun adding color to it.”
Contact Jake Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @frlJakeReyes.