As sophomores on campus for Welcome Week, my friends and I did a lot of lounging around and waiting for it to be dinnertime. During this ample downtime, we talked about our freshmen year, and most of us admitted that it was really hard.
From the moment I stepped out of the car on move-in day last year, herds of enthusiastic upperclassmen ran up to me to tell me how wonderful Northwestern was and how much I was going to love it. I felt panicky as I saw students shouting, running and hugging each other as they reunited. Some people were even telling me that Welcome Week was going to be the best week of my life.
The truth? Freshman year was fun – I met awesome people and learned so much – but it was also overwhelming and stressful. I was running on little sleep, I missed my family like crazy and everything was so foreign to me. I felt like if I wasn’t having the time of my life, I was doing something wrong. While I started to fall in love with my school, I also missed my family, friends and the only home I’d ever known. It wasn’t really until the end of freshman year that Northwestern felt like home to me.
The problem with Northwestern students’ perpetual giddiness is that it alienates those who are depressed, lonely or homesick. I remember feeling like I was the only person who felt homesick and didn’t immediately love college, even though more than 2,000 students used CAPS last year. Few people openly talked about the bad parts of freshman year. In reality, the transition to college is drastic and hard. College itself is hard. Even though a lot of people don’t admit it, it’s perfectly natural to struggle through the transition, and others are struggling with it too.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “almost all children, adolescents and adults experience some degree of homesickness” when they are away. These feelings can be exacerbated by the desire to fit in, introduction to unhealthy habits and culture shock, according to the Journal of American College Health. Furthermore, homesickness is by no means a new phenomenon; the Greek physician Hippocrates theorized about homesickness as early as 460 B.C.
It was the little things I missed most throughout the year – my mom making me tea, my dad’s favorite radio station playing in the garage, my sister’s and my affinity for horrendously-reviewed romantic comedies. Independence scared me, especially during times like when I got sick the night before a final and had no one to take care of me. I called my mom, crying, but she was 2,000 miles away.
Leaving home and moving out on your own means you’re growing up, which is pretty terrifying. People don’t admit it though because it seems like everyone else is having the ideal college experience: They’re making great friends, being independent and of course getting straight As on top of everything.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say my freshman year wasn’t awesome. I love Northwestern and the friends I’ve made, and I’m so grateful to even be here. However, I think it’s important for people to acknowledge that college is hard. Admitting this makes people feel less alone.
According to Eric Bierker, a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, being more informed on the difficulties of transitioning to college can help make college students more successful. In an interview with Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, he said not only do college students undergo academic and social transitions but also personal ones.
“For all the levity of college, there is a counterbalancing somber side where young adults actively question what they believe and why,” Bierker said.
Struggling to adjust is normal. Don’t be afraid to be honest when someone asks you how you’re doing, because nobody’s happy all the time. There’s so much pressure to be happy in college (how many times have you heard this is supposed to be the best time of your life?) but there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re unhappy sometimes. It might take you a little while to adjust to Northwestern, and that’s okay. Even if it doesn’t feel like home yet, by the end of the year it will.