The week five blues...
For decades, students in some universities have talked about ‘week five blues’ – the slump that many new students experience around halfway through their first term.
Research has now corroborated the reality of this phenomenon. Freshers are several times more likely to drop out of university or change course over the next two weeks than at any point of the year. Others won’t drop out but will nonetheless struggle with other symptoms of delayed homesickness and the general sense of disappointment that many feel in this season.
Below are some ways in which those of us supporting or working with students might care for and encourage them in this key time:
- Emphasise that feelings of homesickness are normal. Students can panic that the homesickness they’re experiencing won’t pass. They can also feel that they alone feel homesick to the extent they do. For some, this furthers feelings of anxiety. In most cases, homesickness will pass. Allay students’ fears as you can. A small minority will require extra help, so keep an eye out for those whose struggles seem overwhelming and protracted.
- Help new students put down roots. Taking students out for coffee or a walk in the countryside may feel like small acts to you, but they can significantly help students feel at home. Asking them to serve in little ways at church, particularly such that they can grow relationships with non-student members, also contributes towards this goal.
- Encourage new students to limit their contact with home. Clinical psychologist Josh Klapow says that very regular communication with those at home exacerbates the feelings of homesickness. He says that students and their parents should agree a specific time to talk just once a week, and not to be messaging every day. This helps new students make strong local connections and boost their feelings of independence.
- Help new students maintain a routine. Things like sleeping well, eating well, getting outside and not falling behind with academic work can keep students on more of an even keel. Gently ask around these areas and lead them to the help they need, if necessary.
- Urge new students to go on the CU weekend away. Most Christian Unions organise weekends away at around this time of year. Not only do these weekends offer a change of scene, they are a great opportunity to grow friendships with peers. When both my wife and I were freshers, the CU weekend away was an important means of settling.
- Provide new students some easy ways of serving their friends. Most Christian students are better served by community and support than those who aren’t part of a local church. Pray with Christian students and help them to brainstorm ways that they might draw alongside flatmates who may be struggling in silence.
- Remind new students of the ultimate love, protection and security they have in the gospel. The deepest roots of homesickness come from our common need to experience love, protection and security – feelings that most new students will have to date most commonly known from their parents. But these very deep desires can ultimately only be fulfilled the God who offers Himself.
- Step up your commitment to hospitality. Bible scholars have noted just how often Jesus weaved meals into his ministry. Part of the reason Jesus did this is because sharing meals indicates welcome, acceptance and friendship. Open your own home and encourage other families in your church to do the same. Time to enjoy good food with a range of people from different generations is a wonderful gift we offer to students feeling blue.
How can we respond?
Sunday Lunch Sunday
Many local churches have found it helpful to run Sunday Lunch Sundays in early November – going out of their way to offer meals and hospitality to all students who turn up at Sunday services. It’s a great way of serving Christian students and their friends. Find out more on the UCCF website.
Praying for students
Regardless of whether or not you have much contact with students, we all know what it’s like to feel in need of love, protection and security. Why not take time now to pray for students at your local university? Pray that they’d know human relationships that allow them to feel more at home – but also that these desires would also act as a signpost to the ultimate love, protection and security in Christ that will never let them down.
Peter Dray is UCCF's Head of Creative Evangelism where he helps CUs around Great Britian to best reach their contexts with the gospel. He also curates UCCF's Connect newsletter for church workers and others involved in student ministry.