By now in the fall semester, college students are settling into a routine, attending classes, adjusting to new roommates, and making new friends. But for many living away from home for the first time, homesickness creeps in during these first months. MetroDesk's Roy Greene caught up with Harlan Cohen, author of the best-seller "The Naked Roommate, and 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College" (Sourcebooks), for advice on dealing with homesickness.
A. Recognize that getting homesick is totally normal. About two-thirds of students admitting feeling homesick. Like a bad breakup, it passes over time.
The cure to homesickness isn't at home. The most common mistake is that parents tend to rescue students from homesickness or students run home every weekend to be rescued. Things like being active in campus life, being patient, shifting expectations, working slowly to make friends, reaching out to professors and res life staff, focusing on a date to visit home, staying active, and allowing oneself to feel it ALL helps. Homesickness is a symptom of a student not finding his or her place. The antidote is to create new connections on campus. But this takes time.
Care packages, pictures from home for a student to post, and understanding parents can helpful. Of course, if a student's health is in danger, a visit to campus or a visit home could be in order. But generally, homesickness will pass.
Q. What about the colleges themselves? Are schools doing anything new to ease the transition?
A. Schools are working harder than ever to help students make a smooth transition. You have first-year experience classes, trained peer mentors, trained residential life staff, events for new students, and speakers like me who visit campus (I visit about 50 colleges a year). The message is that college can be uncomfortable at times.
In fact, the tough stuff isn't featured in the brochures. When the tough stuff surfaces, students get shaken. Fast forward a month or two and students who haven't made connections feel horribly disconnected. And this is when they become impatient, homesick, and uncomfortable. This is also when smart students panic and do stupid things they regret. Students need to be reminded that it can take months or years to get comfortable and find the right friends.
A. Any of the common signs of depression: not being able to sleep, sleeping too much, skipping classes, not eating, eating too much, not doing things a student loves to do, expressing thoughts about hurting oneself, changes in behavior, drinking to get drunk, etc. If a parent, roommate, or friends suspects a student is in trouble, that person should reach out to the residence life staff and mental health experts on campus. Assuming a student authorizes a mom or dad to have access to personal information, the people in contact with a student can check in to make sure that student is not in danger.
Q. I-chats, Facebook, and Twitter -- do they help ease homesickness, or make it harder for college students to cut the cord?
A. Everything in moderation. It's easier than ever for students to be physically on campus and emotionally in a totally different place. Facebook, texting, and chatting can keep a student too dependent on a parent, friends, and significant others. I always suggest that students cut in half the time they communicate with people they know from home. Use that time to connect with new people on campus. If a student is depressed, mom or dad should direct the student to talk to experts on campus. It's these experts who can help a student put together a plan of action and use the resources, support services, activities, and orgs unique to the campus to make connections.
Q. What about the hometown boyfriend (girlfriend) away at another college? Friend or foe, on the homesick-enhancement meter?
A. Long-distance relationships are fine if a student can have a life, too. The problem is that too many students get uncomfortable and use this relationship as a crutch. Having a long-distance relationship can be a great place to channel all of a student's anxious energy -- the result is that a student makes NO new connections on campus. On the other hand, a student who can have an LDR and have a life can create new relationships and have an amazing college experience.
Harlan Cohen is working on a new book for parents of college students and invites parents to share their wisdom by visiting www.HappiestKidOnCampus.com
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