This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
As first-generation students, it is often difficult for us–and potentially even more so for our families–to think about moving away to pursue higher education. Despite the potential fear, many of us find ourselves embarking on journeys to unknown environments in pursuit of a better life, one that, for many of us, wasn’t available back home.
Even after we’ve moved in, even long far we’ve waved our goodbyes to our parents for the last time in several months, the homesickness always seem to come back eventually. In fact, for most college students, missing home is part of a regular process: It doesn’t just happen once or twice, but it comes back every so often. I can best describe it as a sine wave. It’s a constant up-and-down state of being, but despite it all, there’s something that keeps me here.
Missing My Sister
In my case, I’ve missed my sister the most, probably because of the time in her life at which I had to leave for college. She’s 4 1/2 years younger than me, in her last year of middle school. She’s about to enter the period in life where we face the most challenges, the most pressures and most of all, the most questions about ourselves.
Back in April, when I was deciding where to go to school, one of those unsaid factors for me was leaving my sister. I knew it would hurt my parents, but they’d have to understand. My sister, however, was just beginning to grow up. She was beginning to go through what every teenager experiences at that stage: friends showing their true faces, everyone becoming much more self-conscious of their image (hence focusing more on their appearances) and kids starting to “crush” on one another.
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to talk to my parents about these things. The environments in which they both grew up looked very different from the one in which I found myself. As a result, I often had to be mature, at least for my age, when making decisions and choosing my friends.
I wanted to be that person for my sister, the one she could always go to for help when she needed it. I was becoming that person during my last year and a half of high school, and then I had to decide whether to leave the state or stay somewhat close. Even then, I knew that it wouldn’t be the same. No matter how many texts or Skypes you share, nothing beats being able to sit with someone face to face when contending with a situation that you don’t necessarily know how to deal with.
In the end, however, I decided that the teachers who had helped me get where I found myself would also help my sister achieve her own aspirations. I was comforted in that sense, but it still hurts to know that I won’t see her grow up the same way that she saw me. Recently, she got braces. Her teeth are moving in a way I never imagined they could, and seeing her with them reminded me that she’s growing up and on her way to becoming a young woman.
Making a Dorm Feel Like Home
When dealing with these challenges, it’s very easy to let yourself go. You can become unmotivated and it can be very easy for homesickness to become a distraction; however, there are several things you can do to make homesickness arise less frequently and/or lessen its effect. Here are some of the things that I do to make my dorm feel as close to home as possible:
- Talk to them, talk to them, talk to them. I can’t mention this enough. When you’ve had a long day and just need to rest, rest while you talk to family members. Listening to your family back home after weeks without seeing them just makes you feel good inside.
- Tell both your family and friends to write to you, but tell them not to tell you if they’ve sent you anything. Even in the saddest of times, there’s always something to make you feel good about the situation in which you find yourself. Whether you call it luck or the will of God, the days when I’ve felt the most down have been the days that have been turned around by the power of a single postcard. It doesn’t have to say much, but the simplest of things will become the most meaningful when you need them the most.
- Read those letters and postcards often, especially when you’re missing your family and friends. I have a drawer where I keep everything that’s ever been sent to me at college. On those days that are getting me down, I like to go to the courtyard and read them, sitting under the sun. These messages from home remind you that you have people who love you and who want you to excel, and they motivate you tremendously.
- Skype with friends. I often heard that it’s so easy to lose friends once you go off to college, and that’s so true. What matters is how willing the individuals are to put forth effort into remaining friends. Start group texts with friends through which you update each other periodically. Send each other postcards. Skype with one another every so often. Share experiences, joys and sorrows. If your friends have been with you through high school, then it’s likely that they’ll be with you through your ups and downs in college too.
- Find friends who also miss home and talk to them. Speaking with others about times like these makes getting through these hurdles a thousand times easier.
It’s very easy for students to be turned off by the idea of moving far away because of simple things like not being able to see their family; although it’s understandable, I think that the opportunity to grow as a person by putting yourself out there will eventually reward you more than staying at home ever could. There’s something special about uncomfortable moments: No matter how hard those cloudy days may be, there’s always something warm and joyous about succeeding and knowing that you did what you thought you couldn’t do.