Homesickness at School

A university looks at animal-assisted therapy's effect on homesickness and retention.
By JoAnna Lou, September 2016, Updated November 2021
When I first went away to college, I remember how homesick I felt, especially since I had to leave my pets behind. One of my first good friendships began over a conversation about our guinea pigs. Not only do animals have the ability to make us feel better, but they can also help bring people together.

New research from the University of British Columbia shows that animal-assisted therapy can help students combat homesickness and could have a positive effect on retention. The transition from high school to university can be challenging, and students who are homesick are more likely to drop out.

In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life, and connectedness with campus. Half of the students completed eight weeks of pet therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks. The therapy included 45-minute weekly small group interactions with the dogs, their handlers, and the other participating students. Following the eight weeks, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.

Participants who completed the eight week program experienced significant reductions in homesickness and a greater increase in satisfaction with life. One student reported that the sessions "felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies." The non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.

According to Professor John Tyler Binfet., homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.

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UBC student Varenka Kim says that moving to a new city to attend university caused her to feel very homesick and depressed. "I was mainly secluded in my dorm and didn't feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life."

Have time with the puppies is certainly beneficial, but more importantly these sessions gave participants a way to meet and interact with each other, forming lasting relationships that went beyond the therapy program.