It’s that time of the year again. The start of school heralds new classes, fresh chances, and, for many college freshman, bouts of homesickness. As exciting as college can be, the transition from home to dorm life is not always simple. Though the actual moving process is physically tiring, it is the mental adjustment to a new way of living that proves to be a major obstacle for new students.
Although currently on my third year of college, I still remember that first night away from home. New roommate, new bed sheets, new experience. I was used to having my own space, so it felt odd to be sleeping in the same room with a complete stranger. Those initial questions: Does she snore? Will we get along? Will I get lost tomorrow? (No, yes, and yes) soon gave way to the realization that things would never be the same. With such thoughts came a sinking feeling. I thought of my parents, my sisters, my cats – miles away from me and this new chapter of my life. I wanted to go back.
Missing home can lead students to feel depressed, angry, or frustrated. Sometimes, students turn to self-destructive substances such as alcohol or drugs to cope. In severe cases, homesickness can interfere with a freshman’s transition so much so that they decide to move back home. The withdrawal associated with feeling homesick can be disastrous to students just beginning their college careers. Retreating rather than embracing the experience prevents young adults from making friends, exploring their campus, and finding their place. The stress of college is considerable on its own – add homesickness to the equation and you have a recipe for poor mental health.
While missing what you’re used to at home – whether it be good food, fighting with siblings, or laundry that’s done for you – is nearly impossible to avoid, there are ways to lessen the pangs. The following suggestions are methods that can help make the process of becoming an independent college student easier.
1. Do something. Nothing illegal, please.
I felt most homesick when I was alone and unoccupied. The easy way out would have been to shut myself up in my room and marinate in self-pity. Instead of that, I stepped outside and looked for something to do. Luckily, on a college campus, there is always an event going on. Staying busy means that your mind isn’t thinking about everything back home. Focusing on what’s happening now makes your situation that much easier. If you absolutely cannot find anything, try asking your Resident Advisor. Not only do they still remember how it feels to be a new student, he or she now has the experience to point you in the right direction.
2. Make friends.
They say misery loves company. Chances are, in campus housing, there will be plenty of homesick freshmen feeling as sad and as lonely and as unhappy as you. The good news is that you are not alone. There are others like you – hooray! In college, there is such a vast variety of people that the chances of finding someone you click with are better than they were in high school. Sure, you haven’t grown up with these people – but maybe that’s a good thing. You can start building a new network of friends – ones who don’t know about your bedwetting incident on that fourth grade trip to Sea World. These will be the friends who watch your back during parties, help you study, and go to Del Taco with you at 3am in the morning. They’ll also be the friends who help you cope with your homesickness.
3. Go ahead, make the call. But not too much.
Phone calls to home are a double-edged sword. Hearing a familiar voice telling you how wonderful you are can be soothing – even healing. There’s a good chance those back at home miss you as much as you miss them. So call. But, if you find yourself reaching for the phone constantly, or during the wee hours of the morning because you just can’t stand being away, it may be a good idea to refrain. Loved ones back at home should be your support system – not an escape from reality.
4. Limit the visits.
It can be tempting to go back home every weekend, but learning to adjust to life outside the nest also means spending time away from it. Experiment with staying a full week in your dorm – you may discover some new activities going on that aren’t available during Monday through Friday.
5. Take the teddy.
Yes, that raggedy, filthy stuffed animal you’ve had since you were six has a right to grace your dorm room. Personally, in addition to bringing pictures, I lugged along my piggy bank – it reminded me not to blow everything I had on cute pens at the campus store. A few, select momentos from home don’t have to be left behind. Having something familiar can make a foreign space appear more inviting, and less alien.
6. If it’s serious, get help.
If your feelings of homesickness are so strong that you feel like you can no longer function normally, it’s time to see a counselor. Not seeking help is like robbing yourself of the chance to have a wonderful college experience. Check your school’s website to find the contact information of your counseling center. The resources available to freshmen are considerable. As a student coming into the college environment for the first time, you are a priority. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from a professional. Homesickness happens when you’re away from home – it ends when you start making the most of what your new accommodations have to offer.
Reissa Decena is a junior studying creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She is an officer for the UCR Chapter of Active Minds, a mental health organization created specifically to serve college students. When she’s not studying, she experiments in the college community garden, works as a peer mentor for the honors program, and paints her nails.