Making connections on campus can ward off homesickness

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Back to School

By now, many students have already left for college, and more are preparing to leave in the next few days. This annual migration may be old hat to upperclassmen, but it can be scary for students who recently left home for the first time and may be suffering from bouts of homesickness.

Students who are feeling homesick should remember, however, that there are people on campus willing to help them out, said Maggie Fogg, a junior at SUNY Geneseo.

"You're never alone," she said. "Just remember there are places you can go."

One of those places is the college or university's Catholic campus ministry, added Fogg, who speaks from experience. Fogg is very close to her three younger siblings, especially her sister, who at just one year younger is her best friend. She'd never been away from her siblings for any length of time before she left for Geneseo two years ago, and she said she was used to being surrounded by a warm, loving family.

"When I went to school there were lots of people around, but not necessarily the people I was used to. It was only when I got active in the Newman Catholic Campus that I met a lot of people that had similar stories and similar values. They were very easy to relate to," said Fogg, a parishioner in the Diocese of Albany.

Elizabeth Donovan said she had a similar experience during her freshman year at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa. Donovan, who is now a sophomore, said she spent about a month on campus last year before homesickness set in. At first the excitement of being in a new place and meeting so many new people kept her from missing her family and friends at home, she said.

"But after a few weeks I began to miss the strong relationships I had with my friends and family back home, and the comfort of being able to share anything and everything with them," said Donovan, who belongs to Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County.

Juniata College's campus ministers helped Donovan fight off her homesickness by listening and providing words of encouragement, she said. One campus minister in particular sponsored a women's Bible study, and here Donovan found other Christian girls whom she could relate to.

"Because we had the same values, my friendship with them became deeper than the friendships I had made during the first few weeks of school," she said.

The familiarity of the Catholic Mass held on campus also helped Donovan feel more at home, and a package of cards and letters from the youth group at her parish brightened her day, she added.

Students dealing with homesickness should make sure they don't spend all their free time in their rooms on the phone with their parents, Fogg suggested.

"Get out and try new things, and if it looks interesting, try it at least once," she said.

Her advice was echoed by Krista Tyner, a former residence-hall director at SUNY Brockport who spent several years helping students adjust to life on campus. Students need to recognize that change will be difficult and they may not enjoy living on campus during their first semester or two, said Tyner, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport.

"It takes time to feel comfortable in a new environment. It also takes time to make new friends and learn how to navigate the school," Tyner said. "But you won't do either of those things by sitting in your room Facebooking your old friends and texting."

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