When Alexis Jackson ’21 left her family in Ohio and arrived on College Hill, she felt overwhelmed by the jarringly difficult pre-med classes. As her first semester ramped up, she found herself struggling with exams and stressed out about her future in medicine. To stay calm and find confidence, Jackson regularly picked up the phone and called her parents, she said.
Like Jackson, 22 percent of student respondents in the Herald’s spring poll call home at least once a day. Sixty percent call home at least once a week, the poll found.
For some students like Jackson, calling home is a source of mental and emotional support.
“There have been times when I’ve just bombed a really hard exam, and I call my mom,” Jackson said. “It’s just so nice to have a calm voice of reason when I’m freaking out.”
Ryan Cohen ’19, who calls home about five days a week, seconded the idea that parents are able to to give an outside perspective on the stresses of college life. For him, phone calls home were a respite from the pressure of studying for the MCAT last fall on top of a full course load and extracurriculars.
“(My parents) just kind of told me if … I need to push the test back, it’s fine,” Cohen said. “In the grander scheme of things, no matter what happens, things will turn out fine.”
But for some students, calls home are less about relieving stress and more about making their parents happy. YJ Kim ’21, whose family lives in China, said she calls home about once a week to touch base with her mom, who is now empty-nested and spends much of her days alone.
“I don’t actually call them when I’m stressed because I don’t want them to worry,” Kim said. “I’m all the way across the ocean, and it sucks if I’m always telling them the bad news,” she added.
Kim turns to another family member and a different form of communication in times of anxiety, she said. She texts her sister, a senior at the University of California-Berkeley, “basically every minute.”
Calls home also allow some students to fight homesickness. Sabrina Whitfill ’19 from Arizona said she initially called home frequently as a way to adjust to being away from home and family for an extended period of time. Now, it allows her a window into the “mundane” happenings in her family that she doesn’t want to miss out on.
“My youngest brother is going through puberty now, so every time I go home, (he is) drastically different,” Whitfill said. “There was a sense that I wanted to know what was happening, even the really little things.”
At a school where about 90 percent of the undergraduate student body hails from out-of-state and 15 percent are international, distance and rare face time with family members motivate students to stay in more frequent communication with their hometowns, Whitfill said.
“I was going to go to a school that was really close to home in Ohio, and then I got into Brown last minute,” Jackson said. “As much as my parents were very happy for me, I think they had trouble readjusting to the fact that I would be about 14 hours away. … The fact that we can have constant communication makes me feel better.”
Some local students also like to pick up the phone regularly. Sophie Kuhl ’21 is from Nantucket, Massachusetts, and is able to see her parents monthly, but she still likes to call home once a week, she said. A close friendship with her parents inspires their frequent communication, she added.
Jackson, Cohen, Whitfill and Kuhl all said that they call their parents more frequently than their parents call them. Students typically sneak in these calls between their classes, homework and extracurriculars. For Whitfill, it’s over the course of a daily walk from Andrews Commons to a class past Keeney Quadrangle. For Cohen, it’s typically during a study break at night. Though some students did lament that they sometimes should be studying instead of speaking with their parents, none felt burdened by the frequent calling.
“I acknowledge that it is a real privilege to have a two-parent household with a loving, healthy marriage,” Jackson said. “You only have parents for a certain amount of time, and I really don’t want to waste that time.”
— Additional reporting by Emily Davies