Home is where the Heart is: Homesick at College

In Kiddos, Rosemary McMaster by Lola Magazine

When my older brother Anthony eagerly set off to Fullerton College, California, to pursue his football dreams, I thought that was the end of him living in Louisiana. After that first year, though, Anthony was homesick enough to return to Shreveport. Sadie, my sister, went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a similar idea that she wouldn’t return to Louisiana for a long time. She was back in Shreveport after her freshman year as well. When I chose to attend college in Sewanee, Tennessee, I was determined to outlast both my siblings and stay at Sewanee until graduation.

Well, not only did I leave Sewanee after a year, but I transferred twice, going from Sewanee to Natchitoches’ NSU for a year, then I finally settled at Centenary College in Shreveport. I guess you could say I beat my siblings; neither of them were homesick at two different schools.

Now, as I rapidly approach graduation, I find myself questioning why my siblings and I were so homesick early on in college. What could we have done differently to stay at those schools? Was there anything our parents could have done to encourage us? After sitting down for a long chat with my siblings, I found some reasons why college students suffer the worst bouts of homesickness after the holiday season, along with some insight to hopefully let parents understand and help their children during such times.

I chatted first with Sadie, or rather had an overly-long Skype session. After leaving Arkansas, Sadie attended LSUS and received her degree in International Business. The minute she graduated, Sadie hopped the pond to Ireland to work as an au pair. Now, having lived in Dublin for over a year, currently attending graduate school there, and traveling Europe any chance she gets, Sadie hadn’t thought back to her freshman year of college in a long time.

“I think I didn’t want to be too far from home…,” she mused when I asked her why she attended the out-of-state school. “Arkansas was about six hours away. It was also a big enough school where you could be who you might want to be.”

Like many other college kids, Sadie’s homesickness began after the holidays. “I think coming back to the comfort of home makes it hard to want to go back [to school]. And you go back in January, which is bleak as it is after the holidays. I think it’s just a hard transition back.”

“Do you regret leaving Arkansas?” I asked, scribbling furiously on my mother’s yellow legal pad as she spoke.

Sadie and Rose

“To an extent, yes,” Sadie answered without much hesitation. “Part of me wishes I would have stuck it out, because I think it would have been really great. But, looking at it from now, I don’t think I’d be here, living in a different country in grad school, if I would have stayed.” She moved on to point out the importance of close friends and self-content in college. “I had friends, but not a solid friend group. I wish I had put more effort into making good friends. I also think a mindset of being happy with yourself… if you’re not happy with yourself, it’s hard to be happy in other context.”

I pushed on, asking how our parents could have influenced her decision to leave or stay.

“It’s hard because, as a parent, you want your child to be comfortable,” she answered slowly. “I think it’s important to listen to your child, help them come to a conclusion or find solutions to make things better. But your child is also becoming an adult. They need to start making decisions for themselves. If you always make their decisions, they won’t be able to make decisions later in life.”

I had to point out the irony that, almost five years ago, Sadie was homesick being just a few hours away. Now, halfway across the world, she has no desire to return to America anytime soon.

“When I left for college, I didn’t feel completely secure in my relationship with my family. I think that had a big play in. But, leaving for Ireland, it was purely for me. I think it’s a bit different when you want something and put yourself there, rather than when you force something.”

After my conversation with Sadie, I wanted to hear Anthony’s experience as well. My brother graduated from Centenary College and majored in Political Science. Far from Sadie’s lifestyle, Anthony currently lives in Shreveport with his wife and two sons. As I sat at the coffee table in their living room, my three-year-old nephew chattering away and making me Play-Doh dinner, I asked Anthony some of the same questions.

“I wanted to live in California,” Anthony started, “and [Fullerton was] pretty much the best junior college for quarterbacks. I also had lived in Shreveport my whole life. I wanted to see and experience a different world than what I had grown up in.”

Similar to Sadie, the holidays were when Anthony’s homesickness really started affecting him.

“The worst kicked in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I came home for Christmas, it made it even worse. So pretty much every time I came back.”

I asked if there was anything he could have down to change his mind at the time. After a moment, he answered, “I wouldn’t have come back home if I was focused on my academics more. I probably would have tried to attend a school that I felt could have really helped me develop, though I didn’t know at that point even what I would do.”

“Well, could Mom and Dad have done anything to motivate you to stay?” I asked while accepting a multi-colored blob of Play-Doh from the persistent three-year-old.

“In general, they never overly-pushed academics on me. They left it up to whatever I wanted to do with football. But if they would have told me what I should do, I would probably rebel, because I didn’t understand why. And I would ignore truth a lot. For instance, I thought ‘Don’t worry about school, test, studying. You can just be a professional football player.’ And that’s absolutely crazy I actually thought that… I was always really good at ignoring what I didn’t want to face me.”

Anthony advised that college students should prepare to face adversity in life. “A lot of kids might attend the college of their dreams; there will still be hard parts about it, and homesickness is just one of those. It’s just a stepping stone of life.”

The final person I sat down to talk with was my mother. Surrounded by Christmas décor and cinnamon-scented candles, I asked how she initially reacted to all of her children becoming so homesick.
“Well, of course, it hurts your heart to think your child might be sitting in their dorm room, sad and homesick, and you can’t be there with them. But I would have really put up a fight for y’all to finish that first year before transferring closer to home, unless there were some major things happening.”

Prompted by my questions, my mother contemplated what she could have done as a parent to encourage her children at the time.

“We didn’t ever put up a fight, or argue too much about staying at a school. I didn’t worry any of you wouldn’t get an excellent education somewhere else, though I would not have given in before that first year ended. But you also have to realize, every situation is unique to itself in some way.”

At the end of it all, coming home was the right choice for my siblings and me at the time. For Anthony, returning home led him to take school seriously and start his own family. For Sadie, she came home to find the personal reassurance she needed to leave Shreveport again, and this time to explore the world. For myself, coming back led me to a job I love with Lola Magazine, but I also discovered a dream to, one day, pursue a career in publishing in New York City.

Anthony with his family

Sadie in Europe

So do I mean to say that, just because your child is missing home after the holiday break, you should immediately bring them back? Not at all. I hope to help parents understand their children’s feelings at such times, and perhaps see ways in which they can help their children out of this rut. But, is it the end of the world if your child truly wants to move closer to home? No to that as well, and I think my siblings and I can attest to that. Now is the time where your kids will change their minds and discover themselves; homesick or not, everything will work out the way it was intended. Life goes on.