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College Guide

On Independence

An afternoon at the Seattle Public Library

The month after spring break has always been packed with midterms, projects, and activities. This year, I am hosting an incoming freshman of Brown Class of 2020 for the ADOCH, so I took my pre-frosh to her 7am event and started revising this post drafted during my Seattle Trip.

Independence is overrated.

Growing up, I was proud to be the older sibling who went to summer schools and traveled for international conferences. I enjoyed meeting people of different backgrounds and relished each new cultural experience, so I thought college would just be the same kind of surprise on steroids. My high school self was a bit anxious about all the unknowns abroad, but I pushed forward, convinced that a independent lifestyle would be perfect, despite living with my family in our comfortable Taiwan home all my life.

The most important lesson I learned in my freshman year is definitely independence. In class, we are taught to think critically and conduct rigorous research. Outside of class, we are expected to be responsible for the (poor) decisions we made and live up to own our actions. I was set to pursue more independence, and I rarely called home as I was dizzy with excitement, satisfied with my new lifestyle in my naivete.

When Homesickness Kicks In

If you are also an international student, you were probably seen as one of the cool kids who decided to venture a different path from the rest of your peers. More often than not, people fail to understand the challenges of acclimating to a new culture (molding into a new life, being far away from your family, and identify new circles of friends, etc.). Aside from the noted challenges, the hardest pill to swallow was the realization that I could suffer from homesickness.

I once thought I was mature enough to study abroad 7,739 miles from home, take care of my finances, and stay on top of work and my personal life — I could take this on; I’ve experienced so much, why wouldn’t I succeed here? However, at the beginning of my sophomore spring semester, right after I returned to attend the TA camp for cs132, I experienced this horrible feeling in my gut, which I can now identify as homesickness.

Jet lag ensued, I started missing my family, and the home-cooked meals — the food I grew up with. I missed all the things I took for granted so much that it started hindering my productivity. I went back to my dorm straight after the TA camp and slept until midnight. (Perhaps oversleeping somehow made my jet lag worse, but sleeping makes me happy so I would do it anyways). After waking up, I felt a bit better but was soon struck with that searing pain, remembering that I was no longer living with my family, and I no longer had access to the food I love. I attempted to remedy this — I’d make the best of of this situation, I thought. I turned on Google Flights notifications, hoping to hop on some miraculously cheap flights and visit home. I shopped on Yami to gather stock a lot of Asian snacks. I called my parents nonstop and ended up face-timing them 3 hours a day.

I felt that deep-seated urge to return home and driven by this urge, I scoured my schedule, looking for any available time when I could fly back. I was desperate to find a long break, so I made several phone calls, sent out a batch of emails, and finally booked the ticket to fly back in May and attend GISTaiwan in the summer.

Meanwhile, I did some research and found that homesickness actually occurs two years after moving to a new location. That clash between the comforting Old and the strange New drives me into limbo — a state of the unknown. As everything seems to settle down in college, I felt as though my old home has stopped embracing me with warm, home-cooked dinners, my new home failed to replicate the love from my family — I was stranded in limbo — the in between.

Then, I experimented and consolidated some tips to combat homesickness:

  1. Be present at the moment. Study, sleep, eat, whatever.
  2. Be honest with friends. They are here for you.
  3. Create new memories at new places. New coffee shops, restaurants, travel!
  4. Don’t call home too often even though you really miss them. (Twice per day is fine, three hours is probably not.)

Ultimately, I came to realize that this, like all else, will pass. I was in midst of a transition. Emerging from this transition stage, and reinvigorated by my epiphany, I drank up new knowledge, excited for the prospects, filled up my schedule with friends, and established new connections with a new understanding of self. I now call my parents on a daily basis (though mostly during my walks) and am happy to report feeling new sense of belonging to my original family. I know that I am blessed and have to move on with my life. I am also extremely lucky to have an extended family in Boston, so dim sum is never too far away.

Confronting homesickness has powered me through many nights, endless projects, and challenging periods. By admitting homesickness, calling my family, and reconnecting with my new self, I was able to identify my vulnerability and found a new peace with my inner soul.

Have you ever experienced homesick before? Let me know your thoughts in the comment. I would love to chat more!




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Charlene Wang

Charlene Wang

Entrepreneur, Author, Product Manager

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