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Homesickness and Building Community

Your students have a new home for the next four years.  And while Wake Forest is a great second home, it still doesn’t feel like Home does.  And there may be a time when they are homesick.

Homesickness varies from student to student.  For some it begins as soon as they said goodbye to you after Orientation.  For others it may take weeks (or months) to come – if it comes at all.  I was happy as could be freshman year until I went home with my roommate for Fall Break, and then I was painfully aware that I was not in MY house and MY bed with MY parents.  And that’s when I felt homesick.

So, if homesickness hits your student and you can hear it in his or her voice/texts/emails, what can you do?

– Provide a comforting ear when your student contacts you.  Remind your student that college is always an adjustment and it’s normal to miss home, family, and/or high school friends.

– Encourage your student to 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.  Consider sending any regional items that might not be available here in Winston-Salem, as those foods tend to be the ones students miss the most.  A side benefit of sending a care package full of goodies is that your student can invite others to share in the bounty – and make new friend connections at the same time!

– Remind your student to leave the door open if he/she is just hanging out in the room – and make eye contact/say hello/invite other hallmates to talk or 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.  Too much contact or support from mom and dad and loved ones can rob the student of the chance to self-soothe and learn to manage independently.

If at any time 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 major transition for most of our students is the idea of communal living.  Most of our students have never shared a room with a sibling, and suddenly they find themselves in a residence hall room with a roommate, and sharing a bathroom with many new people.

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 were asked 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.