There's No Place Like Home

by Lily Hines and Sarah Kovan | 11/5/15 7:00pm

11.6.15.mirror.homesickness_May.Nguyen
Source: May Nguyen / The Dartmouth Staff

Aside from us, there are approximately 1,114 other ’19s at Dartmouth. They come from across the globe — from here in New Hampshire to Thailand to Kenya. And yet, we haven’t a heard a single one of them admit to being homesick.

As any psychologist, counselor or person who has in their life been a college freshman could probably tell you, feeling homesick is perfectly normal.

Why, then, has it become such a taboo subject? Why do we feel so much pressure to prove to our family, friends and perhaps most importantly our social media followers that college is everything we could have ever wanted and more and that we are already “killing it” our first term on campus?

Emma Hartswick ’17 from Underhill, Vermont, who serves as an undergraduate advisor for the first floor of Russel Sage Hall discussed her desire to adjust quickly to college without feeling homesick.

“Freshman year, I think I had — and a lot of people have — this desire to seem like I had it all under control like, ‘I’m super cool. I live away from home. I’m a big girl now,’ Hartswick said. “I think it’s a little harder freshman year to figure out what level of openness is okay with your peers, so homesickness is something I try to incorporate into floor meetings and one-on-one meetings with residents.”

Even though UGAs like Hartswick have made an effort to open up this discussion, Megan Morris ’19, who hails from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, noticed that her classmates, floormates and friends are often reluctant to admit to being homesick.

“Not a lot of people like to talk about it because they don’t want to seem pathetic or embarrass themselves, and they want it to seem like they’re having a great time and everything is perfect,” she said. “But that is not always the case.”

Yet, some freshman have been living away from home for many years before coming to college, so they already know how to deal with the feelings of missing home. San Francisco native Reed Horton ’19 adjusted to life away from his family as a high school freshman when he started boarding school at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

“I got super homesick my freshman year of boarding school, but I kind of figured it out after that. I had basically gone to college for four years before starting here,” he said.

For those of us who are now making that transition for the first time, Hanover can seem like a world away from home. For some, it is even farther than others.

“Last Wednesday, my friend’s dog had to be put down, so she took the coach home to Westchester, [New York],” said Sara Harris ’18, who grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. “She said that was really hard, dealing with that loss, because she really wanted to be at home with her family.”

Harris said that listening to her friend’s story, all she could think about was the fact that she’s from the Midwest and probably couldn’t have just dropped everything and paid for a flight home if her dog had died, no matter how sad it would have made her to miss the funeral.

“So its just interesting, the isolation of Dartmouth sometimes can be different for people,” she said.

For students like Harris and Nelly Mendoza ’19, from Houston, Texas, whose families do not live in New England, keeping in constant contact with loved can be difficult.

“My family understands that I’m busy, so they don’t call every day,” Mendoza said. “I’m the one who calls them. It helps because I feel in control instead of them controlling me.”

Mendoza also said that while she often gets homesick, she thinks that being so far from home also provides a positive example for others back home.

“I’m the first one to leave the house so all of the little ones think it’s so exciting that I’m in college,” she said. “It helps them do better in school. They see that I’m far away and think that they want to do that, too.”

Hartswick was not afraid to admit that she experienced homesickness during her freshman fall. She explained that she dove right into school at the expense of forming supportive bonds with people around her and on her freshman floor. By the end of freshman fall she longed to be at home, and unlike many of her peers, she was not “super jazzed” for winter term to start.

Then, winter term she began to form networks of friends, and by finding her community here she began to feel less homesick.

“That changed pretty quickly. During winter term, I got really close to my freshman floor, and then it was sort of the opposite story where I didn’t want to go home before spring break. I think, for me, it was about finding my community here,” she said.

Some freshman arrive on campus with a built-in community. Tucker Brown ’19 from Greenwich, Connecticut, for example, who has an older brother who is a ’17, considers himself lucky because when he feels homesick he has someone from home close by who he can talk to. He highlighted the importance of these conversations and urged students not to be shy about discussing homesickness.

“It’s hard to start that conversation, but once you do, it’s worth it,” Brown said. “It’s not like it’s something to be ashamed of because college is a completely new thing and it’s natural to miss home.”

According to Hartswick, who regularly meets with freshmen who live on her floor, there are two parts of “that conversation” mentioned by Brown.

“One is helping people realize and recognize that it’s totally okay to be homesick,” she explained. “For a lot of people, this is the first time that they’ve been away from home for an extended period of time or even their home state for an extended period of time. It’s okay to sit with those emotions and feel them. That’s a good thing, I think.”

Hartswick explained that the second aspect of it is helping students enjoy the rest of the term and feel present on campus. She hopes to guide students to find communities on campus where they can feel safe and at home and explore their interests.

For Morris, finding a community has meant joining the Decibelles and getting to know as many of her peers as possible.

“I think that getting to know a lot of different people, saying hi and forming good relationships here makes it seem a lot more like home,” she said. “That’s the biggest aspect that you miss, having some support, someone who you can really be yourself around. So I think forming those relationships has been my biggest effort there.”

Even if you are already warmed up to Dartmouth’s culture (and its not so warm November climate), that doesn’t mean that you don’t miss home at least a little. Dylan Burke ’19 explained that he missed the relaxation of being home.

“I miss waking up with nothing to do and not waking up until I have zero reason to be in bed anymore,” he said.

Morgan Quental ’19 also acknowledged that she longed for many of the comforts of being home with her parents.

“Living in the dorm is fun, but there are so many things that, when you’re home, your parents do for you — like going to get food — that take up a lot of time. It all adds up,” she added. “Honestly, I miss my dog more than anything. He would always be next to me while I’m doing my homework, so I miss that.”

Homesickness may never become a go-to icebreaker at frat parties, but as upperclassmen can attest to, it is an inevitable part of the college experience. Yet as students get older, they become more comfortable discussing the experience of craving the comforts of home.

“I think it’s funny because homesickness gets less taboo for upperclassmen,” Hartswick said. “They’ve found their community here, but also there’s more acknowledgement of who they are, what they’re feeling and what’s important to them. Recognizing what your feelings are and saying you can’t wait to go home over break and have your mom’s cooking.”