Freshmen face the stress of being away from home sweet home

By Arlene Birt

Iowa State Daily

AMES, Iowa (U-WIRE) - If home is where the heart is, many students are far from it. As newcomers to college life and independence, many freshmen face the strain of living and studying away from the familiarities of home.

Stress caused by classes, combined with homesickness and loneliness, can lead many first-year students to depression, withdrawal and sickness.

This danger is especially high for freshmen who have, in the past, spent little time away from family, friends and "home sweet home."

"Homesickness is a common part of a student's adjustment," said Nancy Corbin, assistant director for clinical services at the Student Counseling Center. "Most new students feel excited, yet really they miss the things they have left behind."

Some ISU freshmen expressed feeling lonely because of the absence of their high school friends.

"I've got the 'lonelies' because I don't have my good friends to turn to," said freshman Shannon Schwab. "But as I adjust, it'll get better."

Missing familiar faces is not the only cause of homesickness. It also can be brought on by the change of schedule and the new environments students confront, as well as the lack of parental guidance, Corbin said.

"Sometimes, just the newness of the experience can take students back a bit," she said.

But for some, the first weeks of college have been more enjoyable than depressing. "I'm not homesick now, just sick for the people at home," Schwab said.

"I think many other freshmen are (homesick) now; they just haven't realized it yet," Schwab added.

Student Health Center physician Mark Blaedel agreed that freshmen are not affected by homesickness until later in the semester.

"The students will be okay for the first two to three weeks because so much is going on, they don't notice their homesickness, but as soon as they (settle in) we really start seeing it," he said.

Blaedel said the Student Health Center employees tend to see an increase in the number of sick freshmen about a month into the first semester.

"Feeling depressed or anxious contributes to sickness," Blaedel said. "Stress in measured amounts is healthy, but when a student is diverting too much energy to worrying about home, there may not be enough spent about (the student's) well-being."

"It's a mental thing," said Colin Kurth, a freshman pre-advertising major who is attending Iowa State from Alaska. "People make themselves sick because they dwell on it."

Blaedel warned new students to be aware of smoking, alcohol and sexual habits, as well as to watch out for general health.

"The homesickness is going to pass, but some things aren't," he said. "These patterns start during the freshman years, and a lot of times, these are freedom issues."

Blaedel said students can combat depression by monitoring their health and exercise patterns.

Paying close attention to eating, sleeping and exercise habits can reduce susceptibility to illness, he said.

"Most kids who drop out do so during their first three semesters," Blaedel said. "It's not because they can't do the work most of the time there is an emotional (interference). Retention problems are a pattern that is set up within the freshman year."

Of the 3,599 freshmen in 1996, 17.2 percent dropped out during or after their first year, according to the Office of Institutional Research Fact Book.

On average, over the past 10 years, 9.8 percent of freshmen have dropped out during or after their first year, compared to only 3.7 percent of sophomore dropouts.

Financial difficulties and transferring also may contribute to the number of dropouts during the first year of college, said Steve Sullivan, director of News Service.

To combat these problems, ISU's Student Counseling Services offers stress reduction workshops, individual counseling and support groups free of charge for ISU students.

"I think the first thing is to help them understand that this is normal," Corbin said. "This is a very big transition in their life."

Visit The Daily Cougar