All people deal with separation issues differently. You may have been one of those individuals who left for camp when you were younger, waived goodbye to your folks, and were on your way to archery class without a thought. On the other hand, you may have been left with a feeling of sadness about being away from familiar surroundings, friends and family.
How many of you have seen the movie Pleasantville? It is about 2 young people who are sucked into a 1950s television sitcom, who find that they have assumed the identities of 2 teenagers in a family that resembles that of “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It to Beaver”. That one was for you, June Cleaver!
Going away to college is much like the experience of being sucked into a television sitcom, and for many it is not pleasant.
Think about it. You wake up one morning, in your comfortable double bed, in a room all by yourself. All the personal stuff that you’ve accumulated for the last 18 years surrounds you, along with the family dog or cat that has slept on your bed for the last 6 years. You go down the hall and have breakfast in a kitchen that you’ve maybe eaten in all your life, next to the younger sibling that has driven you nuts for the last 3 years. The next thing you know you’re in the car, traveling with your parents to a new “home”.
You wake up the next morning in a single bed with a new roommate that you do not know. You had to walk down the hallway to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and you noticed the names of all the strangers who currently live all around you. You said goodbye to your parents and your younger sibling the day before, and it starts to hit you that you really miss them. Your best friends are hours away, and you need to find your way around a campus that you’ve spent all of 24 hours on before.
The transition to college is enormous, and for many individuals change does not come easy.
Feelings of homesickness will vary from person to person. It may be a problem for some of your residents right away, while some may experience it two to three weeks into the semester after things quiet down and the regular routine of college life settles in. Some may not experience it at all.
Homesickness in many ways is a grieving process. It can result in feelings of sadness, or perhaps anger. Individuals who experience it might socially isolate themselves and withdrawal. Sometimes homesickness can lead to serious depression, and if this happens you should be working to get these residents to see a trained counselor.
Feelings of homesickness can be compounded by the fact that your residents may, for the first time, be making decisions on their own without input from their parents. As well as making decisions without parental involvement, your residents might be for the first time managing the impact of the decisions that they are making on their own.
Homesickness can also be compounded by stress. Stress that results from living with a roommate, class work, keeping up, taking tests, managing a job to help pay the bills….
Programmatically speaking…What can you do to help?
Educate your residents about homesickness and let them know it’s normal to feel “blue”.
• Research the issue and plan a bulletin board on homesickness, nutrition, low fat eating, stress management
• Interview a campus counselor and put together a top ten list of things you can do to help deal with homesickness. Distribute this to your residents 2 weeks into the semester, with a note that they should see you if they are feeling “blue”.
Figure out a strategy to assess how your residents are feeling.
• Spend time on your floor and get to know your residents. You can’t really spend enough time in the beginning. The more you know your residents, the more you’ll be able to figure out if they are having difficulties.
• At your first floor meeting, survey residents as to their experiences leaving home in the past. Ask them how they are feeling about their move to campus. Use this information to help determine who might be dealing with the homesickness “blues”.
• Get around and talk to folks individually to see how they are doing.
Plan targeted activities that help residents get to know each other…help them to make connections with new people.
• Go as an entire floor to campus events and activities. You do not have to do the program planning yourself, take advantage of the planning that others have done on campus, and support those programs.
• Develop a support group for people who might be having a hard time transitioning to college…its sometimes great to find out that your not the only one experiencing homesickness. Ask a campus counselor to facilitate the group. Hold focused discussions on the qualities that your residents most like about themselves, and the strategies that they have used in the past to make friends.
• Form a book club and ask a favorite faculty member to help facilitate discussion. Read a book that focuses on transition issues, and have participants relate it to their personal experiences.
• Complete an optional survey of your residents about their interests. Compile the information so that residents on your floor know who likes to do what.
• Survey your residents about the things they were involved in before college. Direct your residents to campus opportunities that are related to there past involvement.
• Plan a community service project and get your entire floor to participate.
• Set up floor committees to help you manage your floor.
Help educate your residents about things they can do to get involved with campus life.
• Plan a building wide activities fair, that includes student groups and organizations on campus. Invite building residents to attend.
• Meet with your campus work-study office to identify job openings on campus. Make this information available to your residents.
At the start of the year, educate your residents about the relationship between stress and depression and overeating, making bad food choices and pigging out.
• Hold a health fair in your residence hall.
• Get free massages donated for a floor program, and combine it with a discussion on stress reduction.
• Have residents cook a low fat dinner on your floor, and have a speaker talk about low fat eating. (Check out the article on low fat eating on the pro page of this website. It is in the personal and professional development section.)
• Educate your residents about the impact of alcohol and substance abuse and depression. Help them to understand that you cannot drink or drug your problems away.
Exercise is a great stress reducer, so plan things to do that involve physical activity.
• Post information about campus pool hours, aerobics schedules, exercise classes, etc.
• Organize a walking club of floor residents. Record miles walked in a prominent place on the floor.
• Plan activities that involve physical activity.
Plan activities that help your residents stay in touch with their families.
• Plan activities and host a “Little Siblings” weekend, and invite younger siblings to campus.
• If the majority of your residents do not live far from campus, work with your floor to plan a “parents dinner” one Saturday night, and invite parents back to campus for a meal in your residence hall, cooked by floor residents.
• Write a letter to all of your resident’s parents, asking them to send a surprise care package, or a letter from home, or a baby picture, and plan a program to present these surprises from home to your floor residents.
Help your residents get acquainted with their new surroundings … familiarity helps people feel more in control.
• At the start of the year, take your floor residents on a campus tour.
• Post campus maps on your floor, or provide them to floor residents if they are available.
• Post information on important campus resources.
• Take your residents to the campus dining hall.
• Plan a campus scavenger hunt, and send your residents out in teams of four to find different offices on campus.
• Post information on area restaurants and things to do in your campus area.
• Research with your campus police or security office about how to live safely in the environment where your campus is located, and make this information available to your residents.
• Take your floor to the community where you live…show them how to use public transportation and the fun things to do in the city.
So, that’s it for now. It’s up to you and you’ll do a great job. Anybody have any other great ideas? … how about posting them on a message board that you can access through the chat and discussion link on the web site?