Homesickness: A Parent’s Personal Journey

Professionally, I don’t do much writing, technical or otherwise. As a small business owner my writing skills revolve around proposals, estimates and budgets, none of which are very flowery or flowing. So, please bear with me as I do my best to write about this month’s topic.

I’ve always heard that it’s best and easiest to write about a subject that you know, so that’s why I chose homesickness. My daughter, who is a sophomore this year, went off to college and never looked back. She has always been a social young lady with a lot of friends. She’s well organized and skilled at scheduling social activities with sports and homework. My son, though not as well organized or as social as my daughter, has always managed to fit in wherever we have dropped him off over the years. The first day of camp, anywhere he went, he always had a friend by the end of the day…always. Going off to college was no big deal for either one of them. However, they were both close and could have come home anytime they wanted, which they didn’t…ever.

By now you should know that this story is obviously NOT about them.  I’m the one who got homesick when I went off to college, two-thirds of the way across the country and far away from comfortable, friendly New England. I wasn’t homesick right away, mind you, because I had a girlfriend that I moved to Colorado with the winter before. We spent half the winter being ski bums (what’s not to love about that!?), then went back to Maine for the summer. However, young relationships often come to an end and half way through the first semester at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, we broke up and for the first time I was alone. No friends, no family, no way to get home.

You see, I’m from rural Maine and while Fort Collins was not that large as far as cities go, I might as well have been in New York City. My apartment building, as I remember it, only had about a dozen or so units, so nothing overboard there. My neighbor, however, was a graduate student from India and he cooked at home all the time. The oils and spices he used produced an unfamiliar scent to my nose. Two-lane streets with cars and people everywhere; stores and malls were now minutes away instead of an hour. The foothills along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains with the wide open plains that stretch eastward for several states had no feel whatsoever of New England. In the fall, the hillsides were awash with yellow from the aspen and green from the pine trees, but no brilliant reds and oranges from the maples. Fall in New England is so beautiful. Needless to say, all of these made for a difficult transition to college life.

Damn it! I wanted to go home! But I couldn’t because I didn’t have any money for a flight or even a bus ticket. So, I kept going to school every day. In those classes I started talking to other students and making friends. The deep desire to go home began to weaken day after day. I started participating in other activities and going out with my new friends. Within a few weeks my homesickness was gone altogether.

Students may experience homesickness at different stages in their college career.  For some it’s when they go away to an overnight outing.  For others it may be during their first semester or year at college; while studying abroad; or while doing an out of state internship.  Yet for others like me it could be right after a breakup. Regardless of when it occurs, if your student is experiencing homesickness now, know that there are things you can do to help ease their ordeal. First, go visit them if you can but not often. It doesn’t have to be a long visit, just an hour or two. Take them to breakfast or lunch off campus and bring the family pet, if there is one. A well-timed visit or two may resolve the problem. Second, if a visit is not possible, encourage them to take advantage of one of the many activities available on campus, such as sports, music, theater, lecture series, etc. to meet people, make friends, have a good time and therefore taking their mind away from “HOME.” Third, be available to listen and offer advice if they ask for it. As much as you would want to fix things, remember that homesickness just like everything else in life is a process and a challenge that your student has to overcome. Constantly remind them why they‘re at college. If nothing seems to work, maybe a visit to the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) “Let’s Talk” session might be appropriate. By the way, they also have some great apps on their website, which I wish were available at Fort Collins when I was at college. These apps are designed to help students cope with stress or anxiety, find strategies to overcome challenges, promote mental wellbeing, and succeed in college life and beyond.

Following are a few helpful pages/links:

Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) Resources
Campus Recreation
Student Affairs and Campus Life “Get Involved
UMass Events 

Ultimately, homesickness will pass and your student will become a better person and a stronger individual for it. I like to think my life turned out better and richer for seeing it through to the end.

Joel Lord is the parent of a UMass Amherst sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.