For most freshman the first semester of college is an exciting time: No parental supervision, no fixed schedule, no rules. But, the freshly achieved freedom comes at a price.
“Being entirely responsible for yourself, managing your time and making good choices can be overwhelming and stressful,” Director of the Counseling Center, Dave Brown, points out.
But, these are not the only feelings new students can experience when they leave home for the first time in their life, Counselor Vincenza Rose Marash stresses.
“About two-thirds of the first-year students struggle with homesickness. Many feel like they are the only ones dealing with this and that everybody else seems to adapt much better, but that is not true. Homesickness is extremely normal and should be treated as a completely natural occurance.”
Luckily, homesickness and feelings of loneliness are temporary.
“It shouldn’t last longer than a couple weeks. But, there are a lot of things students can do to help combat these emotions.”
[Check out Marash’s tips against homesickness below.]
While sadness and missing home in the beginning is normal, there are signs to look out for that indicate that it is time to seek professional help, according to Brown.
“If drastic changes in behavior, personality or habits occur it can be an indication for more serious conditions like depression. If a usually active person starts sleeping a lot or someone stops eating, he or she should definitely talk to a counselor or teacher,” Brown warns.
It is important that students know themselves and how they work the best, Brown advises. Someone who is prone to procrastinating, for example, should plan accordingly and pace themselves.
“College is all about the choices. This is new to freshmen coming right out of high school, where they didn’t have any say in their schedule or how to spend their time. For the first time, they are entirely responsbile for themselves. Students are here to grow and improve themselves, and of course it should be fun, too. But, the focus should lie on education.”
For the first days at school, Brown recommends to “just get out, get involved, express yourself outside of the classroom. Students come to college to become a new person.”
However, socializing should not feel like pressure.
“You don’t have to overdo it, especially if you’re a person with social anxiety. Take small steps and push yourself slightly out of your comfort zone. That’s a great start,” Marash says.
And while partying and drinking is undeniably a part of college, Brown encourages students to practice it safely.
“We know that students will go to parties and drink, but please be careful. Don’t overdrink to a point where you can’t keep yourself safe anymore. Learn to say no if you have class the next day – students will understand.”
Vincenza’s strategies to handle homesickness
Create New Structures
Humans are creatures of habit. Keeping a planner with a (flexible) schedule that incorporates time for work and realaxation helps in maintaining a sense of balance.
Integrate Familiar Rituals
Blend old habits with new practices to avoid too many changes all at once. If you used to run every morning at home, incorporate that run in your new schedule.
Keep in touch with your loved ones through social media or the good ol’ phone.
Display Cherished Momentos
Putting up photographs, cards, stuffed animals or other tokens from home help to remind you that you’re loved.
Branch Out and Explore
Get involved, make friends and go out. New friends help when you are feeling alone or sad.
Eat right, sleep enough and exercise. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you feel overwhelmed.