BY NICOLE FUNG CALLEJA
Imagine your excited, panting dog, your little sister with a glimmer in her eyes, your parents welcoming you to your already familiar surroundings: the streets, the driveway, the smell of your favorite dish wafting from the kitchen, the bang of a door slamming, the yelling of the next-door neighbor, the poster-filled walls and the creaking of your bed. These are the noises that cheerfully announce that you’re home. The place where you are most relaxed, the place that has seen you grow and that now, as a college student, you value much more.
Reality: college has become your default second home. Your friends have turned into family, and it is with them that you share meals, the jokes, the mood swings, the tears and the pain. But it is more than that. Your apartment, even your dorm, obliges you to live independently. You are confronted with challenges that mimic being a young adult in the real world: cooking (seriously, should you really eat that much pizza, and what about that cupboard full of Ramen?); washing clothes (is separating colors from the whites that important?); and time management for social life (FOMO is a real thing). You call all the shots.
But even though college seems so busy, so distracting, you are still awarded with quiet moments where you can ponder about life: where you’re heading and what you left behind. Sometimes, especially when going through something especially frustrating—a bad grade, relationship problems, drama, frustration in your sport, the music that you make—you long for the place where everything is easier, the place where you can easily shake away all the bad things, if only momentarily, to be engaged with something that makes you genuinely happy.
After all, your siblings won’t care if you did badly in this class or that class. They won’t mind that your love life is messy or that you didn’t eat well for the last month; they do not judge you based on your performance or whether or not you fulfilled their expectations. Your family will get excited about seeing you, about hugging you, about being able to spend time with you after the dreaded months apart.
Home exists in a place unbothered, framed in crystal, untouched by the hands of college stress. There, although not perfect, family, warmth and comfort surround you constantly. Once you are in college, though, you realize that to grow, we all need to get out of this comfort zone. But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad to desire to go back. Homesickness is normal. Regardless of living 30 minutes away from home or miles and miles from it, your feelings about missing home in your heart cannot and should not be dismissed as something silly. It is not.
Sometimes, college can be very overwhelming. Here you are, trying to balance all these aspects within a 24-hour span, carrying expectations not only to complete your homework, attend classes, go to workouts, cook and eat healthy, go to practices and be involved in your university, but also being the very best you can in each and every one of them. And let’s not forget about the social life—the interaction through social media and maintaining relationships—the undying concern about your dating status, your friend status, your sense of belonging, to be identified with someone.
Because aren’t you most complete when you are with the ones you love? How can you manage the intense stream of emotions rushing at you that make you wonder if this was the right choice? You use Skype, Facetime, Facebook and Whatsapp, looking desperately to keep connections (friendships from back home, long-distance lovers, current events) that make you feel like you haven’t left even when you’re away. Connections that would remind you that you are worth it and needed and loved somewhere out there in the world no matter what’s going on in your college life. It’s a safety net that catches you at your worst moments, in your most vulnerable state.
Yet, knowing that, you need to realize that, as a young adult, there are ways to cope with this. Yes, being homesick is okay, but if it will affect your every moment in a negative way, here are some tips on how to deal with it:
- Explore places. This may seem kind of silly, yet it is infinitely rewarding to think you have found a special niche, a particular place in this land of unfamiliar things that you can call your own. It might be as simple as picking a place where you go often to run or even the little spot you like to sit in the local coffee shop. Just make sure it feels comfortable, and make it your go-to when you’re having a bad day, to remember that there is a reason why you are here right now.
- Talk to a friend. This is kind of tricky. Sometimes, talking about home to someone can be very bittersweet; you yearn more for the place, the people and the things you relate to it, but it could also potentially be healing to remind yourself of the things awaiting you. Better yet, talk about something else to divert your attention to something that is happening in your current environment, and be active about getting yourself involved.
- Make plans. Be creative in making plans for the weekend and filling your free time. More time doing activities means less time idly letting your thoughts swim away to melancholy places. You can try a famous pizza place, ask someone local what there is to do in the area, find out about events happening on campus…endless possibilities!
- Don’t obsess over social media. Take a break from social media. Use it in a positive way. Don’t try to keep up two lives when you only have 24 hours to spend a day. Constantly browsing through the news feed and the updates of people back home, seeing the concerts you’ve missed and the birthdays you couldn’t attend, is not healthy. Plus, there are always more of those coming when you go back home.
- Why am I here? Remind yourself in some way of why you are here. What is your goal? What are you enjoying? What things do you have here that you can’t have back home? There is always a trade-off, and sometimes it might seem like a sacrifice, but writing down the pros and cons for yourself in the long run is a good way to keep a positive attitude even on the worst days.
Home is always going to be waiting for you, and every time you go back to visit, you may find that nothing there has changed…but you have.