Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra: I graduated from high school in the spring and moved about 80 miles away for college. Even though it’s not far, I’ve been homesick. Being at school has gotten better, but when I’m home or family visits me, I have the worst time saying goodbye. I cry and try to postpone leaving. I’ve wanted to leave my hometown since elementary school and didn’t think I would miss it as much as I do. Is time and getting used to being away from family the only thing that will help?
Kendra: Having moved from California to South Carolina and then to Kansas, I know what it’s like to miss home. And with a my sister, who’s also my best friend, now living in Iowa and my dad living in Arkansas, I know what it’s like to miss family.
It’s completely normal to be homesick, but don’t let your emotional reaction to saying goodbye prevent you from enjoying your college life. Every student who decides not to live at home during college has reasons. Remember those reasons when things get hard.
We say that time heals everything, but I say the best medicine is distraction. Get involved in your new community. Whether your college is big or small, you are much more likely to find like-minded individuals than you were in high school. At large schools, your options are endless, and you simply need to find your niche. At smaller schools, you’re likely to have already weeded out dissimilar individuals in the application process. Missing your past will be harder when you’re busy as a club president or running a mile with fellow athletes.
As much as I love my family, Emily VanSchmus made a great point in last week’s column that in college, friends can become a new “family.” But how do you meet these ideal familial-surrogates? It’s as simple as sitting next to someone new in class and asking him or her to study over coffee. Suddenly, and easily, you have a distraction and an opportunity. The best part about college is that everyone is in the same boat as you and many of your peers would be glad to get an invitation from a new friend.
Wes: Having practiced here for 14 years this month, I’ve seen hundreds of young people in your situation. Some stuck it out. Others didn’t. Some returned from distant colleges and continued locally. Some I fought to keep in school. Others I encouraged to move home. Every case is different.
A crucial part of adult development is solving the myriad problems of daily life. College makes that a gradual transition, rather than carpet-bombing you with the future. You start out in the dorms where heat, scheduling, potential friends, electricity and food appear as if by magic, and slowly work your way into a world where you have to go out and make those things happen. Still, it’s a transition, and often a tough one.
As I’m writing this paragraph, I’m in hourly contact with Katie Guyot, sitting alone in a Columbus, Ohio, airport hotel, waiting to see if she can beat the storm and fly via connection through O’Hare International Airport, or if she’ll get stuck dragging herself to the NPR affiliate in Columbus or Chicago to do our Monday radio show by remote. I feel for her, but in many ways I envy this high adventure of youth. I remember being a college sophomore in the winter of 1983, out in the driveway by my trailer house, shivering in my coveralls, overhauling my truck’s electrical system. It was about 15 degrees.
Adversities make us into adults, homesickness being but one of many you will face. I admire you for having the courage to do these things that are hard and uncomfortable. Don’t give up. Go back to school in January and stay until May. Only then, decide whether to return in fall of 2014. I guarantee you’ll make a better decision then. In fact, I’ll wager that by late spring, your college will have become your new hometown.
And perhaps Katie will finally have gotten a flight out of O’Hare.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.