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Homesickness: The Epidemic

Oh boy. They’re all homesick.

That’s probably hyperbole, but that’s what it feels like right now. Some students are dreadfully homesick. Why? There are lots of reasons and factors.

What generally happens is that students are at the point in the semester where they’re starting to lose motivation: their midterm grades weren’t so hot; they’re battling like crazy to succeed in their most challenging classes; they’re questioning their majors, their potential careers, their friendships and romantic relationships. For many of them, the one thing they can count on right now is the stability of support from their parents, so they want to, as my boss-lady Dr. Sutton says, ” fall back on the last thing that worked.”

This description means that, when things get hard, we tend to revert back to the methods, practices and lifestyle we had when things we easier. It’s human nature. So students, when they feel overwhelmed, naturally want to revert back to the life that worked–family, home, academic habits. They’re getting bombarded by NEW! DIFFERENT! HARD! RESPONSIBILITY! and all they want to do is curl up in a ball and have somebody say, “It’s gonna be OK.”

I know some of the students would accuse me of exaggerating, but let’s be honest, we all have days like this. I would dare to say though, that first semester freshman year is the time in many people’s lives that is the most change-filled and tumultuous, the shortest period with the most life-altering question marks hovering in every direction. So what do they do? They pretend outwardly they’re not insecure-bordering-on-terrified, and they fantasize about places and people that make them feel secure.

What to do? A with many emotional situations, that best thing to do is often the hardest thing. You’re not going to like me for this, but I swear it’s the best thing: don’t let them come home. Limit phone calls and texts. Don’t intervene with their lives.

Ouch. Sorry.

I know it sounds cruel, but letting them more heavily involved with home as their homesickness becomes more intense actually exacerbates the problem instead of soothing it. I’ll tell you one of my favorite case studies of this: there is a girl I know who is now a sucessful upperclassman, and at the start of freshman year, she was insanely homesick. Finally, her roomate said something along the lines of, “You’re always gone because you’re always going home, and it’s bumming me out.” For this young lady, the fact that her roomate had noticed her lack of engagement with campus life was a real wake up call, so, though she lived less than two hours away and had a car, she vowed not to go home for five weeks (the next major break).

Gutsy move, huh?

But she did it, and she says it was one of the best things she’s ever done. The kicker is, during that several-week time period when she didn’t go home, her Mom spoke constantly (to her) about how much she missed her daughter. This was the hardest part of all, the student says. She enjoyed spending more time on campus, but actually found that these conversations with her mother made her feel guilty for doing exactly what a college student should be doing: embracing her independence and flourishing in his/her new life. She felt like her mother needed her; she felt an obligation to be responsible for her mother’s emotional well-being. That’s not as it should be, right?

And I’ll warn you, this homesickness wave will happen again in January/February. You can probably guess why.

What do you think of this phenomenon? Does your student exhibit signs of homesickness, even though s/he claims to be fine?

Jessica Hume
c/o 2005
Director of Writing and Parent Communications

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About Cassie

I'm the Director of the Writing Center and Director of Parent Communications at Bellarmine University.

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