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Homesickness and Building Community

Your students are here.  You are home.  This is the ‘new normal.’  How to adjust to it?

Homesickness might have set in as soon as you said goodbye to your student after Orientation weekend – or it may take weeks (or months) to come – if it comes at all.  Some students feel just fine until the first time they are invited to visit a roommate or hallmate’s home and spend time with someone else’s parents – then it hits them how much they miss their own family. So…how can you help if you think your student is homesick?

  • Provide a comforting ear when your student calls/emails/texts/IMs you.  Remind your student that college is always an adjustment and it’s normal to miss home, family, and/or high school friends.
  • Suggest that your student talk to others on his/her hall – roommate, hallmates, Resident Adviser (RA).  There are likely other students feeling the same way, and they can bond together.
  • Send care packages.  Some of your student’s favorite non-perishable foods from home can be a great comfort.  In addition, a care package full of goodies your student can share creates an opening to invite others into your student’s room to share in the bounty – and discover new friendships!
  • Remind your student that when he/she is in the room, leave the door open.  Encourage your student to invite other hallmates into his/her room to talk and hang out.  That’s part of how you build community on a college campus.  (Of course, students are urged to keep their doors locked when they are not in the room, when they are asleep, etc.)
  • Resist the urge to call/text/email your student too much.  Offer support, but let your student navigate the waters him/herself.  Students have to learn to sit with discomfort – and discover they have the ability to work through issues on their own.
  • However, if you are concerned that your student is unusually homesick or depressed, you can suggest he/she talk to the RA or the Counseling Center for additional support.

One early issue that students must adjust to is communal living and being a good neighbor. Many students have never shared a room with a sibling, but suddenly find themselves in a residence hall room with a roommate.  There may be adjustment issues between roommates – over sharing of personal property or clothing, what time the lights should go out, how loud the music is, when is ‘study time’ vs. ‘friends time.’  Wake Forest’s Guide to Community Living has a list of ‘roommate rights’ that should be respected (see p. 14).

If your student says there is an issue with his/her roommate, remind your student to talk to the roommate calmly and kindly about any issues of concern.  It is generally best if the students work out their roommate disputes themselves, without parental involvement.

Roommates are encouraged to complete a Roommate Agreement the first week of school to outline the do’s and don’ts of their room.  That informal contract can be renegotiated at any time – so if there is an issue, the roommates can and should talk about it and reach a new agreement.  You can refer your student back to the agreement if needed.

If your student can’t reach agreement with the roommate, the next step is for the student to ask the RA for assistance in mediating the situation. If that does not satisfy both roommates, the RA can involve the hall director in the mediation. Navigating interpersonal conflict is one of the more difficult lessons students learn outside the classroom.  It is also one of the most vital experiences your student can have and is integral to his or her long term success in personal and professional relationships.  Encourage your students to be good neighbors to their roommate and hallmates, and if conflicts arise, to be honest and direct, to give and receive criticism with grace, and to find ways to compromise and reach agreement.

Again, this is easy to say and hard to do, but is very important:  if your student is experiencing a roommate conflict, resist the urge to get involved yourself. This is a moment where you will help your student grow and learn the most if you let your student navigate the path himself/herself.  And note that for any students who want to change roommates, there will be opportunities to explore those options during “Room Thaw” which begins on Tuesday, September 3rd; details will be available from RAs.

Finally, your student is now a member of the Wake Forest community, and he or she should strive this semester to begin finding his or her niche. Your student will likely have a roommate, and will certainly have other hallmates to get to know.  And those students can form a friend base and provide companionship.  Your student will also meet other students in class, which can open doors to friendships.  But each student needs a niche on campus to belong to based on his/her own interests – and that is where clubs, activities, and groups come in to play.

Encourage your student to attend the Student Involvement Fair (Tuesday, September 3rd at 3:30 pm on Manchester Plaza).  This is a mass event with every student organization on campus.  Your student can sign up to get on the email distro list for any activities of interest – and this will help him or her find his niche.  Not every group will be a fit, certainly, but urge your student to attend the Student Involvement Fair and get involved with a couple of activities that seem especially meaningful or fun.

There are many avenues for support and involvement.  Encourage your student to explore and find his or her path at Wake Forest!