Hit by Homesickness
My first year of college has been tough. In addition to fending off the freshman fifteen, struggling to get enough sleep, and trying to find the right balance between a social and academic life, I found myself experiencing a lot of homesickness.
In fact, research suggests that about 70% of students experience homesickness throughout college, but it is first years in particular who are much more prone to the negative symptoms that accompany the feelings of separation. These “distress” symptoms can often manifest into deeper and darker feelings of depression. Homesickness is something that shouldn’t be taken too lightly.
Homesickness still affects people in varying degrees. For some, homesickness merely comes and goes with a rainy day. For others, homesickness nags at the back of their mind; its presence serving as a reminder of someplace better, someplace happier, and someplace home.
While studying abroad during my first fall semester in London, homesickness for me was more attuned to separation, being physically far from my family, but it wasn’t that bad. Of course I missed my family and my room and oh, Lord, my bed, but FaceTime calls and constant messages easily shrank the distance between us.
But being homesick at Berkeley for some reason is a different story. Though I’ve already had classes here during the summer, I’ve never actually stayed a weekend at Cal since home in Sacramento was just a BerkBus ride away. To be honest, being so close to home and being able to get home, I didn’t I plan to stay a weekend this semester at all.
But, as luck would have it, my parents decided to take a three week long vacation to Taiwan and left me at Berkeley for my first two weekends… ever. It was going to be alright… right?
Boy was I wrong. That first weekend was really hard. I didn’t know what to do at all! I had friends at school I could have hit up and there was no reason not to hang out, go to the theatre, or do my homework, but I just felt helpless and wasted my time moping. I had come to the point where being home (at least on the weekend) became normal, became comfortable, and essentially, became a crutch that I depended on.
The second week of class was when homesickness really started to settle in. Usually on weekdays, I would meet my friends for meals or try to make an effort to do other activities with them. Then I hit a schlump where I didn’t really want to see anyone or go out at all. At one point, I felt trapped. My workload was weighing down on me, my thoughts were overwhelming even for no particular reason, and I found myself constantly taking deep breaths and rolling my shoulders as if I could keep the space around me from shrinking. I let myself become isolated and kept mostly to myself the second weekend, just working, working, working.
Homesickness caught me unaware. I’d like to think that I have a strong mental capacity. I’m a tough gal, I’m confident in the face of challenges, I remain steadfast amidst hardship, and I can take most things thrown at me. But homesickness is a stealthy little bugger. It can creep up on you and build up over time. But as an ambivert, I do find that half of my energy comes from being around others. And at this point, I realized that homesickness was affecting me more than I should have ever allowed it and I was determined to get myself right by the third week.
Even though I had midterms coming up, I found myself reacting better when I studied with others or even just took a break to grab donuts. Hesitation to go to a basketball game on a Thursday evening turned quickly into a night of intense and unfiltered fun. Sure, I was still homesick, but the feelings of distress had faded back into feelings of separation.
Funny enough, my parents have returned and I am sitting here writing and reflecting at home. The feelings of homesickness have passed and while it was certainly a rough patch, I’m glad that I went through it. I realize now that I need to make more of an effort in taking breaks and clearing my head. I need to take up those offers of grabbing coffee or meeting up for a meal. I realize that I can’t go through college alone nor should I want to. Perhaps the best way of combating homesickness is to find the things that make Cal feel just a little more like home.