Mark Hoffer/Fort Worth Star/TNS
Mark Hoffer/Fort Worth Star/TNS

Don’t let homesickness define your year

College is often described as the best four years of your life, but that does not mean the beginning of your Wake Forest experience won’t be a little rocky.

And that is okay. It’s almost inevitable that even the most independent and well-adjusted freshmen will find themselves hit by homesickness at least once during their first semester, if not more often. Living on an unfamiliar campus, adjusting to the demanding college workload and establishing a brand-new daily life can sometimes cause a new college student to want nothing more than to hug their mom and curl up in their much warmer and cozier bed at home.

The first few months of my own college experience were filled with the delight of diving into rigorous academic pursuits, meeting wonderful friends and finding my place on campus with the Old Gold & Black and the swim team. Yet, the separation from my family was emotionally jarring, particularly in regards to my beloved identical twin sister, who attends college several states north. However, I  found that with time, those tough days were fewer and farther between, and you will surely find the same.

   It’s important to recognize that homesickness is a normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment. You’ve left behind much of what you’ve ever known, so it’s no surprise that you’d feel displaced and unsettled for a little while. It’s more complex than just missing your home, your parents, your pets and your bed — very often, it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable and not yet being quite happy with your new life. Homesickness is a longing for the familiar.

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As a result, because homesickness is ultimately about a lack of security, coping with it can be as easy as establishing a sense of security and familiarity in your new environment. A big step in this process can be finding a club or team to get involved with early on. You need to do something more than going to class to have a fulfilling and rewarding college experience. Having at least one or two organized extracurricular activities occupies your time and helps alleviate the  feelings of loneliness. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the number of clubs and activities available at Wake Forest, try to find an activity similar to one that you loved in high school. For example, I practically lived in my high school campus newspaper’s computer lab, so I immediately found a home on the Old Gold & Black staff. There is a place for everyone at Wake Forest and if you don’t find it right away, don’t give up. It’s never too late to try something new.

You may be tempted to call home frequently. There’s nothing wrong with that if it makes you feel better, but some students may find that hearing their loved one’s voices is more upsetting than reassuring. Calling your parents too often can remind you of what you’re missing at home and distract you from building your confidence and independence at school. Try to encourage your parents to let you be the leader when it comes to when and how often you talk. That way, conversations can happen at times when they’re likely to help you and not make your homesickness worse. In between, use text and email for quick check-ins that aren’t as emotionally fraught as a longer conversation. Send snail mail to your family, friends and loved ones back home too — writing a letter or postcard is a good break from the stress of college life and you never know, you might get a letter or care package in return.

Any problems you might have with missing home will only be compounded if you don’t take care of yourself at a basic level. Don’t forget to eat a balanced and consistent diet, take time to exercise, avoid germs as much as you can, and above all, get an adequate amount of sleep. A tired, hungry and homesick college student is not one that can do their best work.

Finally, while homesickness is natural and nothing to be ashamed of, don’t ignore your problems if you aren’t okay. Separation from the comfort and familiarity of home can be triggering for major depressive episodes, so if your sadness impairs your ability to succeed in your classes and thrive at Wake Forest, you should look for help. Your resident adviser, a trusted friend, the Counseling Center or even Student Health are all good places to start. Especially if you don’t try to tough it out alone, your homesickness will soon fade and you will feel completely at home at Wake Forest.

Finally, remember that your parents are going through a tough adjustment too. Most likely, your mom is thinking about holding your hand as you took your first steps and your dad is thinking about taking the training wheels off your first bicycle, so the realization that they just  left you at college is hard to swallow for them as well. Give them one last hug, but don’t dwell on missing them. Treat this goodbye as a hello to your new Wake Forest adventure.

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