Friday, March 23, 2012

How to Overcome Homesickness at College

Out of all the emails and comments I receive from high school students who are worried about college, homesickness is the most frequently mentioned topic.  By far.

I struggled intensely with homesickness during the first few weeks of my first semester of college.  Living nine hours away from my family weighed heavily on me.  I knew hardly anyone in Aggieland.  Going from a loving, comfortable environment to a place filled with friendly but unfamiliar faces was difficult.  I am currently in my second semester of college.  The difference in my emotions between this semester and last semester is astronomical.  I can say with confidence that I am no longer homesick.

The first two weeks of school, I cried every day.  And I don't say this to scare you.  I am sharing this so you can know that homesickness exists for college freshmen, it's normal, it's hard at first, but it gets better.  I was able to overcome my homesickness with both time and the Lord's help.

For those of you who are concerned about homesickness when you enter college, here are five tips for you.

1.) Stay busy and social.  

I'm naturally an introvert, so my first urge when I'm feeling lonely or homesick is to withdraw into my bedroom and hide from the world.  Don't do this.  The busier you are and the more fun you're having, the sooner you will get over your homesickness.

However, be careful not to overwhelm yourself.  Be sure to leave time for studying and for quiet time with the Lord.  Give yourself a couple of hours of study/alone time each day, but make an intentional effort to get involved with the social community at your university. 

If you find yourself sitting in your room feeling alone and sad, get out and do something.  Don't allow yourself to sulk and dwell on the fact that you're away from your family.  You're in college now!  Get involved.

For those of you who will be attending secular universities, make an effort to seek out the Christian community at your university.  Visit Christian organizations and clubs and continue to bring up Christ in your conversations.  Although it's fine to make friends with people who don't believe the same way you do, you'll want to have a core group of Christian friends who will share your values, hold you accountable, and be your foundation at this new place.  Get involved in the Christian community wherever you go.

2.) Keep in touch with your family.

My reaction when my family came to visit in September.
To this day, I Skype, text, and talk on the phone with my family on a daily basis.  When I stay out of touch with them, I feel more homesick.  If you miss your parents, give them a call.  They're probably missing you too.

Just because you're living independently doesn't mean you can't involve your parents in what you're doing.  It's fine to keep them updated on your life in college.  I often call my mom and let her know what I'm doing each day.  She knows who my friends are, the boy I like, my classes and grades... I am in frequent communication with both of my parents, which gives me less reason to feel homesick.

When you miss your friends, arrange a Skype date with them.  Write letters to each other.  I send a letter to my best friend every week and I have for the past seven months.  Receiving letters in the mail is by far the highlight of my day.  Communication with loved ones is a great way to cure homesickness quickly.  If you miss your family, let them know.  Keep in touch.

3.) Proactively make friends.

Don't wait for friends to simply appear in your life.  This isn't high school.  Unless you join a sorority, friends won't be there automatically.  Get out there and make friends.  You be the one to take the initiative.

Make an effort to have a conversation with someone new every single day, whether it's sitting with an unfamiliar face at the cafeteria or starting a conversation with someone on the bus.  Be friendly.  Wear a smile.  Make sure you are approachable.

If you meet someone you'd like to have as your friend, pursue that friendship.  Invite them to have coffee with you, spend afternoons with them, and allow your walls to come down, even if you haven't known this person for very long. The more time you spend with a potential friend, the closer you will become.

I tend to make close friends over a fairly long period of time.  It can take a while for me to open up and share my heart with someone.  What I've found about college is that it brings people closer together faster.  Here, your group of friends is kind of like your family.  They're the ones who know what's going on in your life, who keep you accountable, and who watches your back.  Allow yourself to open up and bond with people, even if you've only known them for a week or two. 

4.) Don't give up when it's hard.

Go into college with the knowledge that it will be a tough transition at first, but that you will get through.  You are being thrust into a situation where you are living independently, where you don't know anyone well, and where you probably have limited communication with your loved ones back home.  That's hard.

Remember that the majority of the freshmen around you are going through the same emotions as you are, even if they don't show it.  The upperclassmen also went through the same thing.  They know what you're going through.  It's normal, and a lot of older students will be ready and willing to help you through the tough times if you ask them for advice.  Look at how many people have gotten over their initial homesickness and are now happy with their independence.

Even if you are feeling extremely lonely and homesick, don't give up.  Don't go home.  Don't settle somewhere else.  Put your faith in the Lord and stay where you are for at least a year.  Trust me on this: You'll make friends.  Your university will start to feel like home.  Just give it a chance.

After the first two weeks of college, I was certain I would transfer to a smaller community college back home, but my mom asked me to wait it out for my freshman year.  Guess what?  Halfway through Christmas Break, I was desperately ready to go back to Aggieland.  The idea of transferring makes me laugh now.  There's no way I would ever want to go to school somewhere else.  

Give your university time before you make the choice to transfer.  Don't give up right away.

Also, don't give up on making friends and finding a church.  Even if you aren't making good friends right at the beginning, don't give up searching for them just because you're frustrated.  Continue to look for a good group of friends.  Keep researching organizations.  Open your heart to the people around you and continue to try, even when you're tired.

In the same way, don't stop going to church just because you can't find "the right one" for you.  Stick with a church that reflects your beliefs and jump into the Christian community in your college town.  Hebrews 10:25 says, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another."  Keep attending church, even when it doesn't feel like home.  Your church may be the best way for you to connect with the Body of Christ at your university. 

5.) Don't slack off on your relationship with the Lord.

I hate to admit it, but this happened to me when I first started college.  I was overwhelmed with the stereotypically hectic college schedule, with studying, and with feeling homesick, and I slacked off when it came to keeping in touch with God as well as I should have. 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 asks us to pray without ceasing.  Keep in constant conversation with the Lord.  Even when you're tired and homesick, even when you're busy, take time each day to immerse yourself in God's Word.  Spend more time than usual in prayer with Him because of the new emotions and trials you're experiencing.

It's funny... once I began attending Bible studies because I was craving God's Word even more than I was craving relationships, once I began seeking out a closer relationship with the Lord because I was discovering how I felt fulfilled rather than lonesome when I spent time with Him, my relationship with God began to soar forward in huge leaps and bounds and my homesickness began to disappear entirely.  I feel so much closer to God now than I was six months ago.  It's been an amazing two semesters.

Homesickness doesn't last forever.  It'll be okay.  Trust in God and He will carry you through this.  

If you have any more questions about homesickness or finding your place at your university, don't hesitate to ask.  This is something that is near to my heart because of my personal experience with homesickness.

Also, the last day to submit questions for my College Q&A Day is March 31, so be sure to leave any questions you might have about college.

1 comment:

  1. I am a freshman in college, and I am about 6 hours away from home. I came here thinking that I would have no problem adjusting, I was more than excited to be independent! I was actually completely fine my first couple of weeks, but when I got an unexpected chance to go home for labor day weekend, everything changed. I wasted that entire weekend laying on my couch, literally sobbing at the thought of having to go back to school on Monday. Ever since then, I have been miserably homesick. I am in a sorority so I have made several friends from that, but everyone seems to know so many more people than I do. No one seems to understand that when I say "I know like ten people on this campus" I mean that i really do only know like ten people on this campus. I am counting the days until I get to go home next, and I always think of home, especially my senior year, as the time that my life was "perfect" and the thought that living at home and going to high school is over is making me so homesick. I just don't know what to do because everyone's homesickness seems to be much better and mine has just begun. I feel like I'm taking all the right steps throughout the day to get adjusted to college life, but when I get back to my dorm every night and crawl into bed, all I want to do is bawl!

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