Features

And it’s okay to talk about it

Ali Schwabe | Fulcrum Staff

I WAS SO ready to leave home. As the eldest of the four children of my incredible, brilliant, loving, and slightly overbearing parents, I could not wait to move out of my family’s house in Sudbury, Ont. and begin my independent life as a student at the University of Ottawa. Fast forward six months: I was a snivelling mess. I was on the phone with my mom every day, alternating between sobbing incomprehensibly and begging her to let me transfer to Laurentian University in Sudbury.

I can’t say for sure what triggered my homesickness. I went home for February reading week and had an amazing time with my friends, family, and boyfriend. When I returned, Ottawa paled in comparison. I had to eat the same lame cafeteria food every day, I felt a ton of stress about courses I wasn’t doing so well in, and I was sick of being confined to a 14-by-14 room with another human being, as wonderful as my roommate was.

Everyone talks about university as the best time of their life, and I somehow felt that showing any sadness or desire to return home meant I wasn’t taking advantage and was wasting my first year, which in turn made me more upset.

Once homesickness hit it seemed that any little event that reminded me of home or made my life tougher in Ottawa sent me into a spiral of despair. The first time I was sick and had to visit the clinic and pick up a prescription for myself sucked. Getting a bad grade on a paper was more than enough to set off my tears. I was miserable. I slept all the time, and felt extremely guilty for missing out on making friends and taking advantage of all the opportunities university brings.

According to a report titled “Homesickness Impacts Retention and Academic Performance” put out by EBI MAP-Works there are two types of homesickness. One is called separation, the “developmental process associated with becoming an independent person, and is related to missing family and friends.” I, on the other hand, was going through what the report calls distress, described as “the regret felt for having left home and a strong desire to return home.”

The hardest part about homesickness was that I felt completely isolated in feeling it. My friends on Facebook who had gone off to different universities seemed to be having the time of their lives. I didn’t think anyone else on my floor was breaking down on a regular basis, wishing they could go home.

Well guess what? They were. At the end of my first year I started opening up to friends about how I was feeling. I was shocked at the response. To some degree, most of my friends had felt homesick at some point in their first year.

So I figured out how to cope. What was most important to me was understanding that what I felt was normal. Everyone talks about university as the best time of their life, and I somehow felt that showing any sadness or desire to return home meant I wasn’t taking advantage and was wasting my first year, which in turn made me more upset.

I also started hitting up the U of O’s free aquafit classes twice a week. I found a spot in the library where I could focus on my school work and escape my room. As soon as the weather turned nice, a friend and I made a standing appointment every afternoon to write in our journals while sitting in the sun. Most importantly, I felt normal again. I told my roommate when I was feeling sad and was comforted by the fact that she was sad sometimes too. The more I understood that what I felt was natural, the less crippling my homesickness became. I went to the Fulcrum’s proofreading sessions to meet new people and put my love of grammar to good use. I volunteered in an elementary school and hung out with awesome kids. I was spiraling again, but this time upwards.

So, dear first years, realize that if you miss home, you are not alone. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions when you move to a new city, and it’s okay to talk about those emotions. Homesickness happens, but it doesn’t need to be an isolating experience.

If you are experiencing homesickness or depression, visit the Student Academic Success Service’s Counselling and Coaching Service.

Counselling and Coaching Service
100 Marie-Curie (4th floor)
Ottawa, ON  K1N 6N5
613-562-5200      
Email: couns@uOttawa.ca