A few years ago, my friends and I talked excitedly about heading off to college in August—ready to meet new people and take great classes and be college students. We talked about the schools we’d chosen to attend and how amazing it would be to leave home and be out on our own. We laughed about mistakes that we might make, like getting lost on campus or going to a party with a badly planned outfit. In the midst of all this talking and laughing, we didn’t get around to planning how to manage our relationships long-distance…and then move-in day came…and we were thousands of miles apart in all sorts of directions.
For the first few weeks, no one noticed. We were all busy with orientation week and the excitement of being in a new place around hundreds (or thousands) of people that we had yet to meet. Everyone had their best face on—we were all friendly, brilliant first-years with worldly knowledge and high ACT scores. After about a month, the ACT scores stopped mattering and we’d gotten our first papers back…turns out, we weren’t as worldly after all. Right around then, I also remembered how much fun me and my best friend used to have at lunch on Wednesdays and how great it was to go to the movies with my boyfriend on Saturday nights. The new people were awesome, but at the time, we were still getting used to each other…the insides jokes and familiarity hadn’t worked itself out yet. By around early September, I was feeling homesick and just a tad lonely. All the free time between classes and on weekends started seeming a little too long…Christmas had never seemed so far away.
Meanwhile, my little brother was growing up and getting hair under his nose. My mom was working at a new job and had to trade in our old car. For some reason, I’d had the misconception that my family’s lives in Arkansas would freeze until I returned in December…I never gave my brother permission to grow while I was away! Let’s recap.
- I’d gotten over the excitement of “Camp Pomona” and being enrolled in college.
- Things at home were changing without me.
- My friends were thousands of miles away.
- Classes were getting hard.
- Christmas Break was three months away.
Why had I been so excited to leave again? As I’m sitting here writing this a few years later, I can laugh about the difficulties I ran into with that first spell of homesickness. The days definitely felt like they were longer than 24 hours, and the time zone differences between my friends and I made talking even more difficult. Obviously, I made it through the classes and the few months before Break, and now, December seems to get here before I’ve settled in. I still have a box sitting in my closet that never got unpacked. Still, one thing that helped me freshman year was reaching out to the new friends that I was making. Although I thought I was the only homesick soul on campus, I was one of MANY. Talking about friends and family from back home may have increased my nostalgia, but it was also great dinner conversation that helped me feel more at home with the people around me. I learned that text messaging can be a relationship-saver, and days or weeks in between calls can be okay…as long as those calls still come at some point. My best friend hasn’t stopped being a joy in my life, even though I don’t see or talk to her every day. Relationships do change, but that doesn’t mean they have to end. I’ve been utterly surprised by how well some of mine have remained intact, and I’ve also learned how to balance distance with time. It’s all about flexibility and both parties being dedicated to staying in contact and making the available communication work…and this message applies to friendships, romantic relationships, and family members.
As you think about next year when you might be miles away from home, take time out to enjoy it with your friends and family while they’re near you. At the same time, don’t be too worried about losing touch with everyone once you start college. The ones who matter won’t mind the distance, and the ones who mind don’t matter. Getting a college education is an important step towards a future that many first-generation students (including myself) can’t readily imagine…going that extra mile may be necessary, but it will pay off in the end.