By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Last fall, Lauren Lewis left her parents and identical twin sister, Meghan, to begin classes at SUNY Plattsburgh for the first time.
On move-in day, her parents brought her to the college campus from their home in Whitesboro and helped her set up her dorm room.
"And then everybody left," Lewis said.
Almost immediately, she was filled with feelings of loneliness and nervousness at the thought of having to make all new friends and navigate the unfamiliar campus.
"I didn't know where to go to eat," she said. "The first week, I called my mom 10 times a day and my sister 10 times a day."
Lewis's initial feelings of uneasiness are not abnormal, according to Carol Shuttleworth, senior counselor at SUNY Plattsburgh's Center for Student Health and Psychological Services.
"It's pretty common for students, especially brand new students, to be homesick," she said.
After all, she noted, it makes sense that one would miss his or her family, friends, pets and routines when venturing into new territory.
"One of the things we don't do in our culture is talk about what a big transition it (going away to college) is," said SUNY Plattsburgh counselor Kim Fisher.
A lot of people have built up expectations that college is an amazing experience, she said, and while it can be, it's important for students and families to recognize that college life can also take some getting used to.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Christy Minck, assistant director of Psychological Services at the college, encourages parents to ask their children not only what is going well in their new environments but also what isn't going so well.
And when students express that they are feeling homesick, it is important for parents to try to validate those feelings, added Kristina Moquin, also a counselor at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Telling the student how lucky he or she is to be at college or how he or she should be feeling is not helpful, she noted.
"Avoid the 'should' word," Shuttleworth said.
As well, parents may also be reluctant to see a child leave home. However, said Portia Allie-Turco, another member of the college's counseling team, they mustn't let those feelings affect the student's college experience.
"Don't guilt the kids," she said.
The best way for students to get through an initial bout of homesickness, according to the counseling staff, is to form positive connections to their new environment.
A good resource for SUNY Plattsburgh newcomers, Minck said, is the college's Housing and Residence Life, which plans game nights, discussions and other engaging programming.
The college's counseling staff also recommends that new or homesick students reach out to their dorms' resident advisers, who are also students and can be helpful in introducing newcomers to peers and clubs on campus.
"Joining clubs is big," said Allie-Turco, who added that some students even start their own clubs.
For Lewis, college got easier once she got to know her roommate, who was a returning student and able to show her the lay of the land.
In addition, Lewis said, her discovery of video-chat technologies like Skype and Oovoo allowed her to feel close to her family without actually being with them.
"That really helped because you can see them," she said of video-chatting with her parents and sister.
And although there were definitely moments when she wanted to head back to Whitesboro, located in Oneida County, Lewis said, "I knew I didn't need to go home."
But while it may take some time for new students to develop a sense of belonging on campus, Moquin noted, it's also important to keep an eye out for signs that homesickness has turned into depression.
Parents need not necessarily be alarmed that their son or daughter sheds some tears during phone conversations, she said, but drastic changes in behavior should be taken seriously.
If a student experiences sharp declines in appetite or academic performance or an inability to get out of bed, it may be time for him or her to go home.
Prolonged homesickness, Fisher added, may also be a sign that an individual isn't ready for college life.
Students new to college in the fall have typically adjusted by Columbus Day weekend in October, she said, and those who haven't will likely not adjust anytime soon.
Shuttleworth recommends that parents listen to and not push children who are adamant and persistent about not being ready to be away at school.
"Some students recognize that they aren't actually ready to leave home," she said.
Email Ashleigh Livingston:
firstname.lastname@example.orgTO GET HELP Plattsburgh State students who are struggling with homesickness or depression or would simply like to speak with a counselor may contact the college's Center for Student Health and Psychological Services at 564-3086 or email@example.com. The center, which is located directly behind Saranac Hall on Rugar Street, is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For crisis services after business hours, individuals should contact University Police at 564-2022 or call 911.