Bad Advice from Bitchy Bertha – The Homesick College Student

in Bitchy Bertha, Entertaining nonsense and profound thought

Dear Bitchy Bertha,

We live in a small community in rural New England. The children at our K-12 school grow up with the same 20 to 30 children from preschool to graduation. There sometimes is a small influx of new students in ninth grade and sometimes a family moves away, but mostly they spend their whole lives with the same friends. They become like family. A group of unrelated, or in some cases loosely related cousins!

My oldest daughter recently set off for college in a city. She’s finding it very hard to settle in. She is homesick for the stars and the mountains and her friends. She’s very shy and has a hard time meeting new people. I don’t want her to be miserable the entire time she’s at college. What can I do to help?


Concerned Mom


Dear Mom,

The very first thing I must say is that I do not have any sort of degree of any kind relating to this problem. What I write here is my opinion, plain and simple. This not the advice of a person educated in psychology. Okay? Without spell check I couldn’t even spell psychology. If you want sound advice seated in education and experience find a psychiatrist – another word I could not spell without spellcheck.

While normally I don’t believe in coddling children at any stage, for example the way Kate George babies her children genuinely makes me ill, there are a couple of things in this situation that are making me rethink. So instead of my gut response of cut off all but the most necessary communications, make her stay there and sink or swim, I’m going to offer something different.

But don’t anyone else write me expecting gentle advice, you won’t get it.

Concerned Mom, I want you to realize that your daughter probably isn’t getting on the phone and calling you when she’s feeling good. When she’s out having fun she isn’t feeling the need to get comfort from her family, so she’s probably not as sad as she seems. But in case she is here’s what to do:

First, this is a young woman who has grown up in a small and isolated part of the country. She’s known the same small group of people her whole life. Her friends have been there for her entire life. She’s never had the experience of making new friends in a place where she isn’t already surrounded by people she knows. Up to now, she’s been living in a comfortable cocoon, and while that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, this young woman has little experience with being out of her comfort zone.

She has no skills to battle her homesickness and loneliness.

While I still say not to let her come home for anything except the most important family occasions or dire illness, there are things you can do that might help.

  • Call and tell her what’s happening at home every so often. Tell her about her siblings, the weather, animals – anything that she holds dear.
  • Send her little bits of home every so often. A favorite cookie. Her favorite stuffed animal. (My daughter took several stuffed animals to college with her.) A pressed flower from around your house. A clipping from a pony’s mane or something similar. The local newspaper. Photos of her siblings. Local non- perishable foodstuffs.
  • Ask her to little errands and tasks for you. Can you go to a local restaurant and try the food for when we come to visit? (You may have to research restaurants ahead of time so you know where to ask her to go.) Can you ask your schoolmates if they’ve found (a good coffee house, child friendly park, croissants – my favorite, crepes, muffins) near the campus. Can you ask your dorm-mates if their families are bringing young brothers and sisters who might play with your brother and sisters? In case it isn’t obvious these conversation starters have the potential of leading into a larger conversation or a friendship.
  • Ask her about what’s happening at college. What’s the weather like? What’s your favorite view? Have you explored… the waterfront, old town, China town, museums, zoo? Help her to see what is beautiful in her surroundings even though they are not the surroundings she is used to.
  • Most first college students have some degree of homesickness – even those who come from more diverse areas than your daughter. See if you can convey that to her. Ask her if she is strong enough to approach someone else who seems lonely. If she’s too shy to talk to that person she could just go sit at the same table to begin with. She may not realize that she has the ability to help other students and that it would be a kindness. If she could see that other students may be even worse off than she is she may find the strength to reach out, and in helping the other student she would also be helping herself.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. And I’m not 100% sure that best advice isn’t “make her sink or swim,” they do call me Bitchy Bertha after all.

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