Every August, first-year students and their parents pack into Brubaker Auditorium for the annual candlelight ceremony. After plenty of tears and hugs, parents walk out the doors and students quickly meet their orientation groups. But is that moment as final as we think?
Many of our own parents had a more difficult time communicating with people at home than first-years do today.
“Things have changed so much over the years,” said Ellie Muir, director of counseling and health services at the Engle Center. “With cell phones, it’s become normal for students to have conversations or at least texting with home every day.”
The instant communication, thanks to cell phones and social media, has blurred the lines between life at college and home. Some students struggle to fully engage with college life when friends and family from home are a text or phone call away.
For example, a study for the Association of College Unions International found that students communicated with individuals from home regularly and frequently. The majority of students said they were happy with the frequent communication with parents, and they wanted even more time to talk.
Many college students enjoy communicating with people at home while living independently at school. However, an issue arises when conversations between students and parents grow strained.
“I think that the issue may not be as much the frequency as the content, including the emotional content,” Muir explained.
If a student experiences homesickness, the communication can often change from lighthearted exchanges to the need for constant support. In extreme cases students have trouble eating meals, going to class or attending social events.
“We always invite students that are in that level of distress to come to the Engle Center,” Muir said. “We’ve helped a lot of students through extreme homesickness. We certainly try to make things livable for them so that they can succeed.”
Still, that level of homesickness is rare. While all students go through an adjustment period during college, there are ways to strike a balance between life at home and at school.
Tim Ferret, assistant director of Residence Life-First Year Experience, says first-year students should take advantage of Welcome Week Activities like the Res Hall Games, the Opportunities Fair and First-Year Coffeehouse. He says the initial floor gatherings are a pivotal time for students.
“First floor gatherings on that Saturday night are where the vision for your floor community is really cast and you have some really intentional time alone with your floor.”
Senior accounting major Jake Edmunds was an RA in Naugle his sophomore and junior year. He said reaching out to other floor members and your RA is an easy way to initiate relationships at school.
“Leave your door open and when you see someone else with their door open take that as an invitation to stop in and say hi to them.”
Edmunds also said some of his residents decided on specific times to call or skype home to create balance between new friendships and relationships at home.
“The ones I’ve seen do it well have a specific time each week that they talk to home,” Edmunds said. “So they say Saturday night is the night I skype my parents. And then when they do that they make sure that is what they’re doing, they hold to that schedule, they make sure there are no other distractions and they do that for as long as that needs to happen, and then when they’re done they’re right back to being fully present.”
Muir also suggests deciding on some communication boundaries between family and friends at home. These communication plans are usually based on the individual. Some students choose a particular day of the week for a phone call and others text updates throughout the week.
“If everyone’s happy with the frequency and content of the conversations, as the saying goes, ‘if it’s not broken then why not fix it?’” she said. “If someone’s feeling as if it’s too much or too little, I suggest the family communicate openly and make a decision together.”
No matter what the first few weeks of life at Messiah brings, students are encouraged to seek help if they’re struggling to balance the transition. But campus experts recommend – initiate new relationships and take advantage of all of Messiah’s opportunities to build a safe and happy life at school.
This is the second story in a series of articles devoted to topics relevant to first-year students. Check out the last article in this series on the first-year residence hall team and check back next Friday for a new article in this continuing series.
Maddie Crocenzi, Editor-in-Chief
Pug lover, Christ-follower, runner and peanut butter enthusiast.