Divya Ramesh | An illness with no prescription

Guest Column | Finding the cure for homesick freshmen

· August 28, 2012, 10:10 pm

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The trips to the pediatrician’s office this summer had worn my patience thin. When Student Health Services confirmed that all my immunization records had successfully traveled through the system, I was overjoyed.

By that point, I had memorized the dates of my hepatitis A vaccines and could rattle off the name of every booster I had ever received over the course of my 18-year existence. I thought I was done.

Now that I have moved in and Convocation is around the corner, I realize that the vaccines on my chart have failed to prevent one thing: homesickness.

While I can bring Tylenol to campus to ameliorate that occasional headache, there’s no pill to cure this freshman illness.

The thing with homesickness is that it is not a bacterial infection. I cannot go to the doctor’s office, diagnose my condition as “college-freshman homesickness” and leave with an antibiotic course guaranteed to cure me in a week’s time. I cannot diligently take my vitamins and hope not to be affected.

Homesickness is worse than strep throat in that way — there are no physical symptoms or surefire treatments. It might be the only illness that’s necessary to self-diagnose and self-medicate.

Some might argue that alongside issues like campus security, discussing new-student homesickness is trivial. Yet, according to Gregory Longo, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, untreated homesickness can cause students to become depressed, abuse drugs and alcohol and even drop out of college.

As one of the few psychologists to have studied the condition, Chris Thurbur considers homesickness natural but recommends that it be accepted and dealt with.

But, how exactly do homesick students cope?

Students generally fall into two categories: those that believe in the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and those that maintain the mentality, “out of sight — out of mind.” For those in the latter category, or those able to move into the latter category, homesickness, in theory, is non-existent. Home is out of sight and therefore, out of mind.

For those who join me in the former category, however, homesickness is tough. After 18 years of being with my parents, I know that not having them around to remind me to eat breakfast in the morning or rest up when I am sick is only going to make me think of them more. Their absence, more than their presence, is going to remind me of home.

To my fellow homesick students, one way to self-medicate is to turn the adage on its head. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then, presence should make the heart grow distant. Make friends. Use social networks. Crowd schedules with school work and find lunch buddies to fill the odd hours between classes. Family can feel closer with a phone call — as AT&T used to metaphorically encourage, “reach out and touch someone.”

In a generation that is skilled with Skype and texting, we’re always connected. Family and friends are just a click away. Face-to-face communication is only intercepted by a screen. Technology shrinks distance, and in the process, shrinks homesickness into oblivion.

It’s comforting to know that homesickness is common: almost everyone from Homer’s Odysseus to L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy has experienced it. In “Doubt: A Parable,” by John Patrick Shanley, Father Flynn says, “When you are lost, you are not alone.” By the same token, to all my fellow freshmen, when you are homesick, you are not alone. That knowledge is the pill that we need to feel better.

Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. She will be crowding her schedule this semester by writing a biweekly column for the DP. Her email address is divyaramesh20@gmail.com.

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