Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness, to disengage and drop out of university, the researchers said. “Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first year students,” said John Tyler Binfet, Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Okanagan, Canada.
In the study, the participants who completed eight weeks of dog therapy experienced significant reductions in homesickness and greater increase in satisfaction with life. Participants reported that sessions “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.”
But the non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness, the study said.
Dog therapy included 45-minute weekly sessions involving small group interactions with dogs and handlers, and engagement with other first year students participating in the study. For the study, published in the journal Anthrozoos, 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 dog therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks’ time.
A total of 29 per cent of students who dropped out cited more interactions and friendships with other students as a factor that would have influenced their decision to stay longer, according to a 2009 report conducted for BC Stats – the statistics agency for British Columbia in Canada.
“Moving to a new city, I did not know anyone at the university and became very homesick and depressed. I was mainly secluded in my dorm room and did not 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,” stated Varenka Kim, a student at UBC Okanagan.