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Collegians recount how they handle homesickness

BUIES CREEK, N.C. (BP)–Hiroki Mikado poured milk into his bowl of chocolate puffs and sat down in front of his computer. He clicked on the Internet Explorer icon and chose “Yoshinoya” from his folder of favorites. After he had spent a couple minutes looking at the Japanese restaurant’s website, he slowly dipped his spoon into the bowl of puffs.

While Mikado, 27, a senior at Campbell University, was eating his not-so-eccentric meal, he stared at the screen, pretending the food was a tasty fare of beef, onions and rice from home. Until he can return to Ibraki, Japan, again, the World Wide Web is as close as he gets to his mom’s cooking and everything else he misses about his native land.

Research suggests that nearly 70 percent of university students feel homesick at some time or other.

In other words, Mikado is not alone. He handles being so far from home pretty well. He said he thinks that can be explained by the fact that he is older than most college students. He has been away from home for eight years now, two years in the Tokyo area, two years in Hawaii and then three and half years at Campbell in Buies Creek, N.C.

“My family is just a 14-hour flight away,” Mikado said. “If I made the decision to go back home, I could have tomorrow’s breakfast in Japan with mama,” he said and smiled.

Mikado said soccer has helped him a lot. He joined the Campbell soccer team last year. “When I made the team,” he said, “my whole life at Campbell changed.”

He said he still has trouble with English and sometimes has difficulty finding passion and motivation to study.

“Only soccer can make me forget my difficulties,” he said. Being a part of a team has helped Mikado to get motivated to improve his English so that he can understand better what his coaches and teammates are saying.

When Mikado needs someone to talk to outside his team, he talks to his Japanese roommate or gives a friend or a family member in Japan a call.

One of the toughest times away from home was when his sister called from Japan when his grandmother nearly died.

That time, and whenever a problem occurs, he turns to Petra Carlzen, Campbell’s assistant director of international admissions. For Mikado, as for many international students, Carlzen functions as a “Buies Creek stand-in parent.”

Carlzen has worked in international admissions for three years. She has learned that students tend to come to talk primarily when they first arrive in the United States and at Campbell as they try to adapt to a new country, culture and language.

Sergio Tejada, 21, from Armenia, Columbia, for example, arrived at his first school in Virginia without speaking a word of English.

“It was very tough,” he said. “I took an American history class my first semester and had no idea what the teacher was saying.”

Tejada left Colombia three years ago and since then he has only been home once – two and a half years ago. He can’t go home due to the difficulties in getting a new visa to return to the United States.

Tejada saw his parents this summer when they came to visit him and his brother who lives in Florida.

“Whenever I’m sad about being so far from home or if I have a problem, I give my brother a call,” he said. “If that doesn’t help I’ll call my mom.”

Like Mikado, Tejada mentioned that being a part of a Campbell athletic team has helped.

“Everybody in the tennis team [is] from different countries and [they] know how it is to be far away from home,” he said. Around his friends on the tennis team he can forget everything and just have fun.

“It is when I’m by myself that I start thinking,” he said. “As long as I keep myself busy, I’m alright.”

Carlzen said what students struggle with most is missing their families and that if something happens to someone in the family they are not around to help. The students ask themselves, “Why am I here when I should be at home?” As in Tejada’s case, international students often do not have the option to go home, either for economic reasons or because of passport and visa issues.

So what does Carlzen tell students who miss home so much?

“It is not so much about saying anything,” Carlzen said. “It is all about listening.”

Carlzen’s experience has taught her not to start a conversation with a homesick person saying everything will be alright.

“You have to listen, listen and listen and then talk,” she said. “And when you are done talking, you can finish your conversation saying it will be okay.”

Most of the time, Carlzen knows firsthand how to make a student feel better. In 1997, she was a freshman in college missing her home country of Sweden.

If her international admissions office cannot help, Carlzen sometimes recommends that students talk to campus minister Terry-Michael Newell Jr.

However, Newell has never had an international student come talk to him about being homesick and he has a theory on why: “I think the international students have already made the big decision when they decided to come this far,” Newell said. “They knew that they could make it over here.”

Like his counterpart, Newell always keep his door open for students in need. Having been the campus minister for seven years, he is well-acquainted with homesick students. Being away from home can be as tough for a student who is a two-hour drive from home as for a student from another part of the world.

He has found that the typical student coming in to talk is the one living as close as 90-100 miles away.

“It seems to me, many times the student that is homesick a lot is also the student that chose to go to school close to home,” Newell said. For these students, he said, the home environment is typically very important and its absence has a great effect. After all, they have lived with the same people, possibly in the same place, and with the same routines for 18 years.

Junior Jennifer Hadra, 20, does not live quite that close. From Gladstone, Mich., she said her homesickness was worst when she first started school.

“I was really miserable the first month of school,” Hadra said. “I missed having my parents right there to talk to, or if I was sad about something, have my mom there to pat me on the back.”

For Hadra, as with most college students, college was her first experience being away from home for an extended period. After a while, she adjusted and learned how to function and do things by herself. The more she learned, the less she noticed that someone was not there to help.

Yet, whenever something bad happens Hadra said she always wants to go home because she misses the security of knowing that if she needs her family they are literally right there.

“If I am sad or upset, the best thing I can do is give my parents call,” Hadra said. “But a phone can never make up for a hug or a shoulder to cry on,” she added.

Hadra is a Christian and said she would turn to the campus minister if she really needed to talk to a nearby adult.

Newell will gladly speak with any student of any faith. However, sometimes students might need the touch of a physician. All Campbell students have access to a professional counselor at student health services.

If a student contacts the infirmary with a problem, he or she can make an appointment with a doctor who may refer them to a counselor. The student also has the option to ask to talk to the counselor right away. All meetings are confidential.

Even if avenues of comfort and help can be found on campus, whether a telephone call, a friend, international admissions or the campus minister, that feeling of something missing will always be there. Home, whether Japan, Colombia, Sweden or Michigan, can never be replaced.
Hanna Wadefalk is a journalism student at Campbell University.

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