By: Bridget Shovestul

 “Honey, do you have your toothbrush, what about your winter coat? You know, I heard Harrisonburg gets cold in the winter”. “Yes, mom I know, I chose to go to college there, remember?” Packing with my parents in late August, I remember being able to almost taste freedom on my lips. “One week left at home, Bridget, c’mon you can do it”. I told myself that all summer and now looking at my calendar, the day came where I could say, “only seven days left”. I was ready for those “best years of my life” that my parents talked about, accompanied by stories that involved almost forgotten weekends, crazy professors, and random strangers that were now their life-long best friends. Convincing myself that out of state was the way to go, James Madison University sold me with the impeccable beauty of the campus. I had long been awaiting leaving home and for the first time in my life I was ready to say goodbye to Annapolis, Maryland.

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The first couple days of college, I received more information than I had heard in years. At the end of the day I was left feeling confused and alone
Image Credit: warriorfitness.org

August 23rd, move in day came and went so fast it felt like a dream. I learned that information overload was a real thing that day. “Now this is your nine digit ID number that you will need to know all four years, and this is your JAC card that you must have with you at all times to get into your dorm and get meals, and oh yea don’t forget the bus schedule is on the back of your map”, the orientation guides would yell loudly outside, while taking us around campus. My parents were back in my new dorm room adding the last of the finishing touches while I was out. Before I knew it, hours had passed and me and a group of strangers, now called my hall mates were finally getting back to the dorm. I entered the room to see the absence of my parents and the addition of a note. “We Love you so much. You will do amazing things. See you in November, honey”. I read the note over and over again. Nothing changed. They were gone; a thought that just a day prior had no effect on me. That didn’t matter now though, because for the first time in my life I was alone, knew no one, and hundreds of miles away from home.

The first week of school was not exactly as I imagined. A week prior, I pictured myself walking up to a desk and introducing myself to all those around me, with my head held high and an open mind. Reality set in. Within ten minutes of my first class, I felt sweat accumulating on my forehead, along with my stomach turning with pain. In the back row of the auditorium, no one knew I existed. I continued to see groups of boys and girls walking in together. I overheard laughter and yells, as more and more students welcomed each other back after a long summer. The overwhelming reality set in that for the first time in many years I wouldn’t be receiving any back to school greetings from my friends. The time spent in my first class consisted of convincing myself that I needed to stay until class ended. It took everything in me to not run out of the auditorium. The fifty minutes that were equivalent to an eternity finally ended. Walking out of class I acknowledged a benefit of sitting in the last row; no one saw my tears as I exited.

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While other students spent their first few weeks developing friendships, I spent most of my time alone in my dorm room, where I felt most comfortable.
Image Credit: academy.interlochen.org

I found refuge in my dorm room where I could pretend for a couple minutes I wasn’t at college, states away from where my friends and family lived. But when I say minutes, I mean it. It only takes the sound of the door being unlocked for you to realize that you do have a roommate, and you are indeed at college. It took me only one week of college to accept that privacy no longer existed. I missed having my own space back home and questioned how I got in a situation where I couldn’t even cry by myself. Within a few days I got into a habit of shutting down the requests of my hall mates to hangout somewhere on campus. “No that’s fine, I have a lot of work to get started on”, I caught myself saying time after time. Convincing myself that these girls were nothing like my friends back at home, I spent little time making an effort to compare.

While others were out establishing friendships, all my time was spent on the phone with my parents.  The endless amount of phone calls with my parents made me miss home all that much more. Talking to them 5-6 times a day became a routine, without fail. Three weeks passed and with my feelings about school unchanged, my dad posed a question that several weeks prior I never would have imagined could be directed toward myself. “Bridget, do you want to come home and finish your semester off at the Community College?”. I answered him with silence.

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After one of the hardest decisions of my life, I told my dad on the phone that I was staying at College. Staying at JMU has become one the best decisions I have made thus far in my life.
Image Credit: selfimprovementblog.com

Three weeks into school I still carried the burden of the same question on my shoulders, with an answer that I wasn’t willing to make. Only I was responsible for the consequences that may come with leaving or staying and that terrified me . “September, 14th, the 14th, Bridget”, you need to tell me your decision by then”. My dad gave me a certain day in which I had to make a decision, and as every hour drew closer,  I became more confused. Every day I told myself I had my mind made up, only to wake up the next morning and change my mind once again.

I made it to September 14th, only to be faced with possibly the hardest decision thus far in my life. Prepared with a van ready to move my stuff out the next day, my dad called me, “Bridg, am I picking you up tomorrow?” All my hours of hard work in high school to get to college went rushing to my head. I thought about the “what ifs” to come that I would battle with for years if I were to leave, along with the small amount of time I had been here to make such a huge decision. “College is what you make of it”, I remember hearing my old high school teachers say. In that moment, I finally processed the meaning. “DAD, I’m staying, well at least for a semester”. With the best decision I ever made, I finally began my first semester at college.

The decision I made to stay at James Madison University was a pivotal moment that began my first steps  in becoming  a confident college student. With the understanding that I was responsible for my own happiness here, I began making changes to better immerse myself into the college community. I began with forming relationships with the girls that live in my hall. I learned that getting to know the people who live on your floor is essential because these are the individuals you surround yourself with on a daily basis. I realized early on in getting to know people that I could relate with almost every student, in some way or another. I formed friendships fast with some, while others were acquaintances of mine that I shared small talk with now and then. I realized not everyone was going to be my best friend, but whether another student and myself were from the same state or liked the same music, there was always something that made us all somewhat connected. Within a week of spending time with my hall mates, many became good friends who I spent time with on the weekends. The first weekend since making my decision, I stayed at school for the first time. My Friday and Saturday nights were filled with movies, dressing up, and going out. First skeptical about going out with girls I barely knew, I quickly realized that what you put into an experience is what you get out of it.

Through observation, I learned that students fell in love with their college when they formed relationships and lasting memories. This time is often reserved for the weekends, when students aren’t so stressed about school work. It is important not to get into a habit of saying, “next time”, when others ask to get a meal with you, go see a movie, or go take a walk. A student who does this may rob themselves of the experience of establishing new relationships in college.

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According to Health Guidance (2013), for students who are homesick, staying off social websites will ease the pain of missing friends and family from back home
Image Credit: csmonitor.com

Despite making new friends at school, the first couple months I still had days where I was hit by the homesickness blues. To help myself, I tried to stay off social media sites on days when I missed friends and family back home. When a student misses home, it hinders their development at college when they see loved ones happy and enjoying themselves without them, often far distances away. On days I missed loved ones back at home, instead of looking at their posted pictures on the internet, I tried setting a time and date to talk with them over the computer or the phone. Talking to a friend or sibling back from home can make those close to you seem not so far away. However, it is important to give yourself space, as well.

College gives students an opportunity to be truly independent and grow on their own. For individuals who are coping with homesickness or did, like myself, talking to my parents every day sometimes made it harder for me. Though it was difficult at the beginning, I asked my parents to not contact me every day. I came to them only when I really needed them and slowly found myself calling less frequently, upset about missing home. For an individual that is homesick, it is essential your know your limits when talking to close ones back at home so you feel supported, while also becoming dependent on yourself.

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U.S News (2011) reports that getting involved in clubs and sports teams at your new college is a great way to meet new people who live all around campus,with common interests and who are also looking to meet new people. Above are students from JMU who participate in different Club Sport Teams
Image Credit: jmu.edu

The more comfortable I became with being away from home, the more I decided I wanted to get involved  with other students across campus. I joined two clubs that were related to my college major and met other students with similar interests and career goals as myself. Additionally, I joined an intramural sports team, with little prior skill and developed a hobby, while meeting more and more students, many of who developed into good friends outside of my dorm. For individuals, looking to meet other students amongst their college community, getting involved is a great way to meet new people and widen your friend group beyond your own college dorm. To maintain my success with fighting the homesickness blues, I strictly limited myself from going home. Instead, I had my parents and friends visit me at school so I had pieces of my old home at my new home. When dealing with homesickness, the less a student goes home, the better they will accept and transition into their new living arrangement.

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According to College Health Guru (2009), when missing friends and family, have them come visit you at college and show them your new home. Staying at college, instead of going home on the weekends makes it easier for a student to better accept their new school
Image Credit: simpson.edu

Through my first semester journey, I documented all my struggles, victories, and all the memories along the way. Every week, I took time to read what I had written the previous week and make note of the progress I had made. Keeping a journal of my highlights of the week was an essential tool in my growth the first semester, as it gave me constant hope that things were continually getting better. Now weeks away from finishing my freshmen year, I call James Madison University my home. I often think back to the struggles I faced first semester and shake my head in disbelief. I hope to provide first year college students with the guidance and tips to better beat the homesickness blues. With an open mind, patience, and persistence, always remember, “College is what you make of it”.

 

The Animoto video created by myself below is the summation of the tips given in the article above. The video lays out useful hints to overcome homesickness for first year college students who are struggling with adjusting to college life . These tips are what helped me as a homesick, first semester freshman. I am hopeful they will produce similar effects for all those who were once in my position.

 

Works Cited

Howcast. “How to Deal with Homesickness at College.” Online video clip.Youtube. Youtube, 8 May.  2009. Web. 18. Apr. 2013

Illumistream. “Homesickness – It’s A Real Thing (College Health Guru).” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 29 Aug. 2009. Web. 18. Apr. 2013

Madhok, James. “How Can I Avoid Feeling Homesick?” Health Guidance. N.p., 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

Mayfield, Lindsey Mayfield; Julie. “9 Ways to Handle Homesickness.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 06 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

 Image Credit

Guarino, Mark. Can Facebook get teachers fired? 2011. JPEG

Interlochen. Residence Life. JPEG

James Madison University. Meet the Clubs. 2012. JPEG

Simpson College. Parents and Families. 2013. JPEG

The Self Improvement Blog. Self Improvement. JPEG

 Warrior Fitness. Muscle Confusion Got Ya Confused?. 2012. JPEG