Thursday, September 27, 2012

Conquering Homesickness in College

I recently received a comment from an anonymous reader who happens to be a freshman in college.  Reading her thoughts and struggles from her first month of college spoke to me so much.  I can relate, as I dealt with severe homesickness for quite a while when I was a college freshman.  Perhaps you can relate to her words as well.

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!

My senior year was also wonderful.  I had amazing friends, we adopted my sister into my family, and I was finally enjoying my half-days of school.  My family and I are close, so I actually dreaded starting college because I didn't want to be away from them.  I loved the friends I had, I loved my high school life, and I loved being near my family.  When I started college, I tried so hard to make friends... and I did make friends, but it takes a long time to reach anywhere near the level of closeness you've had with your friends in high school.  Everyone you meet in college is brand new and a little intimidating.

Sometimes what frustrated me was the fact that I couldn't fully relate to anyone yet.  I couldn't talk to one of my new friends about something my sister said; they wouldn't understand why it was funny because they didn't know my sister.  If I wanted to share a memory from high school, I was afraid of annoying my new friends... because I often didn't quite understand their high school stories either, but we didn't have any memories to share between us.  There were no inside jokes yet.  No truly close friends.  Only hopeful pretending until closeness eventually happened. 

But closeness does happen.  

Don't rely on a single organization, like a sorority, to be your excuse to stop reaching out to new people.  It's fantastic that you plugged in from the very beginning, but there is never an excuse to stop meeting new people.  Don't stop making friends because you're in a group.  If you don't know many people on campus yet, then leap out of that comfort zone, go out and meet new people! 

Another piece of advice I'd like to give you is to begin to call your college town your home.  It doesn't mean your hometown can't be your home anymore; now you have two homes.  It may sting a little at first, but when you truly begin to view your college town as "home," your perspective will radically change.  You invest in your home differently than you invest in a place you're staying temporarily.  You have a deeper kind of love for your home.  Even if you're in a tiny dorm, begin to call where you live right now home.  Invest in where you are, wherever you are.

Plug into a church.  Don't just attend on Sundays.  It's been at least a month since school started up, so if you're still church-hopping, go ahead and settle on one you like.  It can be difficult to find the "right" church when you start college, because you'll naturally want to compare everything to your home-church and nothing will be the same.  So find a church that works for you, that has similar doctrine and where you feel embraced, and go ahead and get plugged in.  Join a small group or life group or Bible study, or whatever they have to offer.  Volunteer.  Service is a huge way to reach out to your community.  Tithe.  If someone asks you to lunch, go with them.  Sit with new people.  Allow your church community to be a big part of your college family.

Don't be afraid to open up to new friends about your struggles, even your homesickness.  Be honest about how you're struggling.  Even if they seem to be fine, they may be more homesick than you realize.  The more vulnerable and open you are to your friends, the deeper your friendship will grow in a short amount of time, which is what needs to happen.

Try to establish accountability partners and Christian friends who will encourage you and lift you up in the darkest of times.

Keep in touch with your family, every day if you have to, but try not to allow yourself to dwell on how much you miss them.  If you miss your mom, send her a text, and then busy yourself with studying or go out to a coffee shop and talk to someone new.

Talk to God about your struggles.  He longs to hold you and take away your burdens.  If you ask Jesus to ease your homesickness, He will.  His desire is for you to overflow with joy and peace in Him.  He'll bring good friends into your life.  Don't be afraid to share your fears and frustrations with Christ.  Freshman year is an emotional roller coaster, but it can ultimately be an experience that brings you so much closer to the Lord. 

Please know that your homesickness isn't going to last for the rest of your college career.  In fact, it will probably be gone by the end of Christmas break.  I entered the holidays eager to be back in my hometown and by January, I was even more eager to return to my college life.  Things are different now.  It's a little sad at first, but it's ultimately a wonderful blessing.

Making so many new friends all at once can be a difficult adventure, but it's a beautiful one.  These will be some of the closest friends you'll ever have in your life.  Enjoy these four years, and remember that homesickness is only a season.  You'll get through it and learn so much from the experiences you're facing now.  

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