Columns

Johnson ’19: Hiding homesickness

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What do I miss most about home? I miss the blue of the water and the pinks of the sky. I miss the gulps of air standing on a bluff, the midnight dips under the Big Dipper and the view of city lights through a beach fire’s haze. I miss tracing my toe on the lake’s surface while paddling along the shore, looking for tiny coves where I can munch on cheese and berries. I miss hearing folk music when walking past bars and the roundness of my favorite coffee shop’s mugs. I miss my dad’s hums and my mom’s laughs, and I miss the warm hugs of my blanket after a late-night plunge in the lake.

Homesickness comes in different forms. It can mean missing your house, mom, cat, city or country. Sometimes it’s simply missing that strong feeling of comfort and security. College — and all the other living adjustments that come with it — can involve more nostalgia than you might expect. The first few weeks on campus can be isolating when you are surrounded by people you don’t know, and it is extremely difficult to find the space to reflect alone and escape that detachment. This early form of homesickness — when you miss a sense of familiarity and an easy relationship with others — might subside, but the draw of home may never quite disappear.

The UCLA Higher Education Institute reports that 69 percent of college first-years experience homesickness in some shape or form. Homesickness is obviously more ubiquitous than it appears, and it is quite likely that Brown has a similar statistic. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a space at Brown to honestly share these homesick feelings — especially in those early first-year days. Homesickness is not an easy feeling to overcome, and this kind of relief doesn’t happen quickly. But simply talking to another person can help tremendously. There is something about the human connection that can break feelings of isolation; sharing your burden with others can be emotionally relieving.

Yet for many students, college means independence and self-sufficiency, and there is social pressure to embrace and run wild with that freedom. Indifference is an expectation, and this can become inhibiting. The inability to express powerful emotions like homesickness adds another layer of tension to an already stressful academic atmosphere. With so many students likely experiencing these stressors, it is vital that we work to ameliorate them.

If we really want to foster an open, honest environment on campus, we need to make a collective effort to encourage transparency.  The best way is to achieve this is to individually encourage and begin dialogue with friends and acquaintances. To truly lessen the load of homesickness, we need to support each other, share our concerns comfortably and actively build new memories and relationships.

We can start by facilitating this awareness when new students first arrive at Brown. First-year orientation should include and encourage open discussion on the subject of homesickness. For instance, my first-year residential peer leaders offered office hours for their residents and cited homesickness as a possible reason to stop by. But there should be more open doors, and there should be doors open wider. RPLs should specifically address homesickness throughout the year, setting a higher standard for what outreach on homesickness should look like. And there are other small-scale efforts that could provide comfort to those who feel the distance from home. Organizing dormitory events that celebrate different families’ traditions around holidays would simulate a familiar atmosphere and ultimately ease homesickness. I don’t go home for Thanksgiving, and any kind of space or event that recognized my distance from home would have reduced my wallowing feelings that first November.

Brown students come from all over the world. Our homes are unique, but many of us share similar feelings of gnawing longing when we think of home. Asking about people’s homes and opening ourselves up to vulnerable conversations about homesickness can help us understand our peers and solidify new friendships. We need to stop hiding from the reality of homesickness and lean on each other to truly turn Brown into a home.

Grace Johnson ’19 can be reached at grace_johnson@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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