For the majority of Elon freshmen, this semester is the first time they have lived away from home. When they oversleep, dad isn’t there to wake them up. When they catch a cold, mom’s chicken soup is nowhere to be found.
There is a support system. Freshmen are not alone. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel that way.
According to Jennifer Brigman, a counselor at Elon, the homesickness many freshmen experience is actually grief. It’s also completely normal.
“Homesickness is a loss of what was,” she said. “I don’t think it has as much to do with home as it does a loss of familiarity.”
Brigman leads Soft Landings at Elon, a group for freshmen and transfers who are struggling with the transition.
“It’s not me educating them,” she said. “It’s them sitting there and talking and trying to make connections with each other.”
For many freshmen, the contrast between school and home is stark.
“Everything is so different here,” said freshman Gina Ubertini. “The landscape the food and especially the weather.”
Like many freshmen, Ubertini misses the sights and sounds of home. She compensates by keeping memories of Massachusetts close to heart, particularly those of her family.
Ubertini’s mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, which made the transition more difficult. The cancer prevents her mother from flying, so the distance between them can only be bridged by a 13-hour car ride.
“It’s hard,” Gina said. “I miss my family so much. I talk to my mom every single day.”
Ubertini isn’t the only one. Freshman Matt VanDerveer calls his family often, too.
“I talk to them on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s something that I feel is important.”
For those suffering from intense feelings of homesickness, Brigman has some suggestions.
“Share stories with others,” she said. “A lot of times people don’t do that because they’re embarrassed. If they open up, they can get encouragement, find stories that are similar and feel normal.”
Peter Tulchinsky, an Elon 101 teacher, has his own solution to homesickness. Joining an organization is a requirement of his class.
“It gives more structure and focus,” he said. “Being part of a group helps ease that transition.”
Structure and focus are keys for freshmen, according to Anthony Hatcher, a past teacher of Elon 101.
“When you get to college, suddenly you find your time is your own, and you have hours and hours,” he said. “People tend to waste that time.”
When it comes to time management, Tulchinsky believes it’s important for students to prioritize their day based on when they feel most focused: morning, afternoon or night.
“I really try to make sure that, from an academic standpoint, you’re doing your work when your energy level is best, so you’ve got the most focus,” he said. “If you’ve got two hours in between classes, instead of going back to your room and taking a nap, go to the library and get some work done.”
In today’s age of constant connectivity, students working in the library are never more than a text away from their parents. Hatcher said he wonders if the “constant thread” of communication might be contributing to homesickness in freshmen.
“Initially, this might be a good thing, but I wonder if some of the homesickness could be alleviated if it gradually tapered off,” he said. “Maybe over time, you try in your head to make that transition, that this is my new home.”