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Beat homesickness with social networks
By Steven Nalley
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Freshmen and international students in college can deal with homesickness by getting involved in new activities and establishing strong social networks.
Tabitha Staier, family education and policy specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the cause of homesickness often is not only a detachment from family and social networks at home, but also adjusting to newfound independence.
“They're having to make a life for themselves and trying to figure out adult responsibilities, like running a household or sharing one with roommates,” Staier said. “They miss the comforts of home and parents who often were paying the bills and handling some of those stresses of daily life.”
Staier said freshmen should maintain ties to their family and social networks at home and make efforts to build new social networks at college.
“Get involved in a sorority or fraternity, get involved in a new club or organization, find a new church or go to football games and other sports activities,” Staier said.
Staier said many of the decisions freshmen make are personal development issues, such as how to organize a daily schedule or how to celebrate the holidays. However, a strong social network can help if those decisions become difficult.
“It's a personal issue, as you are learning about yourself, figuring out who you are and breaking away from your family,” Staier said. “You have to decide what roles, rituals, routines, values and beliefs you want to maintain from the family you grew up in, or what you want to be different. Trying to work through those things as a young individual can be very difficult, so having a strong social network and getting involved can help ease the many transitions.”
Staier said freshmen should not be afraid to ask for help with issues that are new to them. Help can come from both old and new social networks.
“Some of it's trial and error; some of it's relying on friends and family who have already been in that place to find out what works,” Staier said. “For example, if you've never had to seek out a car insurance company and you don't know what you need to look for, it's always wise to ask them.”
Stephen Cottrell, assistant director of MSU's International Services Office, said it is especially critical for international students to find new social networks and activities separate from their culture of origin. He said international students who seek out only students and organizations from the same country deprive themselves of the bicultural education studying abroad can provide.
“If they try to reproduce their first home by creating a second home that reflects their first home, then they've missed the boat,” Cottrell said. “I've seen Japanese students who don't even want to have a Japanese organization, because they want to get totally saturated by the American mind.”
Cottrell said the biggest challenge international students face is discovering and adapting to the differences between the American mindset and their own. For example, many international students are accustomed to negotiating over the price of groceries only to find that American store prices are not negotiable.
“Students have to take a look at those subtle concepts under the surface, not just whether people use chopsticks or not, but what goes on deep in the mindset,” Cottrell said.
International student program coordinator Shaz Akram said American students going abroad have to make similar adjustments.
“Electricity, water and other basic amenities of life are commonplace in the United States,” Akram said. “If Americans go to an African country with no electricity or an Asian country where there are power shortages for eight hours at a stretch, how are they going to deal with that?”
Akram said international students can use cellular phones compatible with the Global System for Mobile Communications to stay connected to family. However, she said it is important for parents to allow their children to become independent.
“The rest of the world thinks America is a very violent country where students go around shooting people on campuses,” Akram said. “Parents are parents, but being involved excessively takes away from the student's learning experience.”