So you're off to college next fall, huh? Get ready to meet incredible friends, learn tons about yourself and grow in your faith like you won't believe.
And be ready for some big challenges. You're about to go through a major life change, complete with emotional, mental and spiritual hurdles to jump over. Knowing what those challenges are—and how to handle them—can help get your college experience off to a great start.
Step 1: Realize Homesickness Is Normal
All through high school, my best friend and I talked about how excited we would be to leave for college and finally get away from our boring small town. So imagine how stunned I was when, a few weeks into our freshman year, she walked into my dorm room in tears. All she could say was, "I miss my family."
Before long, we were both crying and feeling like idiots for being so silly. I mean, we were two independent, mature girls who really wanted to be at college. But we still missed our moms.
If you've ever been homesick, you know it's one of the worst feelings there is. And when you're a college freshman, that awful homesickness is made worse by the feeling that you're supposed to be too old to miss your family so much. But homesickness isn't just something that happens to little kids at camp. It's a natural reaction for anyone leaving the familiar people and places they love.
So what can you do about homesickness? First, let someone know how you're feeling. There will be resident assistants (R.A.'s) in your dorm who are trained to help you work through the emotions that come along with starting college. Or grab a friend to talk to. If you share what's going on inside you, you might just find someone else feeling the same way.
Also, give yourself a chance to adjust. The best pre-college advice I got was from my older brother, who told me not to come home until the first scheduled break in October. He knew from experience those first weeks of college are packed with opportunities to meet new people. If I'd gone home every weekend, I would have missed out on the football games, campus events, and dorm activities that were invaluable in helping me make new friends.
Another way to deal with homesickness is to remember home the way it really was. When I missed home, I thought of my hometown as the most charming place a person could ever live. And I remembered my high school friends as the most exciting people on earth. I'd completely forgotten all those boring Friday nights my friends and I sat around trying to think of something to do.
Most of all, try to think of the good side of homesickness. Instead of focusing on how much you miss your friends and family, think of how God has blessed your life through the people who love you. Write and tell the people you miss how much they mean to you. Homesickness is a sign that you've been given deep, lasting relationships in your life, and they are a precious gift from God.
Step 2: Don't Be Surprised by Loneliness
Homesickness isn't the only emotional whammy to hit some freshmen. A lot of new students, especially those on the shy side, feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness in those first weeks of college. It can seem like everyone else has found a new group of friends to hang around with, leaving you feeling left out and alone.
If you find yourself feeling lonely, there are a few things you can do to get yourself out of the dumps. To start with, remember that while loneliness, like homesickness, is a cruddy feeling, it's also a perfectly natural response to being in a strange, new place.
Do your best to keep a positive perspective on the situation. When you're on a campus full of new people, overcoming even the smallest amount of shyness and making new friends can seem incredibly overwhelming. But you don't have to meet all those people tomorrow. Set small goals for yourself, like getting to know one of your dormmates a little better. You're going to be at college for a few years. You've got plenty of time for friendships to grow slowly and naturally.