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The Struggles of Living Away From Home

[dropcap]”I[/dropcap] try to pretend sometimes that I’m there, so I don’t miss anything.  For example, I Facetime with my friends when they at a party, or I Facetime with my previous classmates when they have a class, or when we have a family lunch they always call me.” Said Fanni Abonyi, a Residential Life student from Hungary who admits to occasional homesickness despite the fact that she is adjusting well to life at TA.  “The time that I really feel like I’m really there is when I Facetime with my mom, while she is cooking, driving,  or playing with my brother.  Sometimes she leaves to get something and I get to make funny faces to my little brother and make him stay right there where he is until my mom gets back.”unnamed

Our school is home to 162 Residential Life students from around the world who can choose a homestay or living in the dorm.  The dorm is like a “college” atmosphere, the students are more actively engaged with one another and have the support of dorm parents.  Homestay students live with a local family.  This provides the students with a family that they can “rely” on, rather than being on their own in the dorms.  Students in both situations have to make a big adjustment to living here and struggle with homesickness at the same time.

Catherine Paradis, Director of Residential Life & Dorm Head, said, “Kids dealing with homesickness varies from year to year.  This year there hasn’t really been any.  I believe the last time we had someone actually leave TA due to homesickness was 6 years ago.  We always have lots of adults around and on duty to check in on students.  We have a Residential Life Advisor program which allows for students and staff to build relationships.  Advisors check in with students often to see how things are going. We also have a school social worker, Mrs. Cumbie, who has met with and worked with kids in groups to talk about feeling homesick.”  It’s clear that residential students have many opportunities to express their homesickness before it gets out of hand.

unnamed-1Homesickness is a common “sickness” while being away from home.  When someone has such a change in their day-to-day lives and has lost all the things that are familiar to them, most everyone feels uncomfortable and a little upset to have such a pit in their stomach. The Academy of Pediatrics describes it as the reaction to missing what is normal and comfortable for that person.  It is a common and completely normal reaction to the changes that the student is experiencing.  In fact, a recent study from UCLA Higher Education Institute, reports that 69 percent of students suffer from homesickness.  It’s clear there is a high percentage of students that suffer from homesickness, but there is also a number who haven’t.  It’s possible that many don’t feel comfortable with saying they are homesick, and don’t get the help they need.  Although our school tries to make the dorm students feel like this is their second home, being homesick is inevitable for many students.

Realizing that you are homesick is the first part of getting over it. It is important for students to know it is normal.  What most people struggle with is how to cope with it but there are some pretty tried and true ways that thousands of kids have used over the many years of going away to school. Getting to know the surroundings and starting to be familiar with it helps the student start to feel as though there is a new normal.  Experts also agree that creating a space that is yours-like a safe spot or a place that is comfortable and all about you is an important element to getting through the transition.  Students also commonly interact with their family through social media and that seems to be the main way TA students keep close to their families back home.

Some students stay in touch with their families in a range of ways, such as texting, Facetiming, Skyping, calling, social media, email, and others.  Even though they are still interacting with their families, some feel out of touch. For example, Abonyi said, “Yes I still feel like I’m connected with my family, but it’s hard because they call me and send me pictures of when they are together for a family occasion and say they miss me, and all I want to do is be there with them.”

Fanni says “My advice for seniors is that you should take photos with you and put it on your dorm room. When you feel homesick you can just look on your wall and those photos will remind you of your family and friends, and the memories you have with them.  And also don’t try to compare your new life with your old one, because it won’t be the same. It won’t be better, it won’t be worse, it will be just different. But in a good way.”

Another student Iaryna Iasenytska from Ukraine said that she never really feels homesick because she has so much work.  She Skypes with her family everyday, and feels still very well-connected with the people who matter most to her back home.  She said “of course you remember your family, but after a while you kind of grow up, which helps cope with homesickness.” Plus she is constantly in contact with her family.

Soon many seniors will be leaving their familiar surroundings and also might miss home, talking with international students can be a helpful first step to dealing with the transition.

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