100: Homesick

100: Homesick

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College


Home is not where you live but where they understand you.

~Christian Morgenstern

“I know I told you that I want to go to Michigan for college, but I think I’d rather live at home instead,” my son told me, his eyes glazing over as he looked at one college catalog after another.

“How come?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “it would be easier. And cheaper.” He hesitated a moment before the real reason tumbled out. “Besides, I think I might get homesick.”

Homesick. I knew that affliction all too well. But I have to admit that I was a little surprised that my son was aware that he might miss being home when he was away at school. I never considered that I might be homesick before I went away to college. I’m not too sure I thought about anything during my last year of high school. From the first day of school senior year, all I thought about was the crush of time hanging over me, intruding on every thought and pushing its way into every conversation. That final year of high school was the last time I’d get to be with my friends and I never wanted it to end. So I applied to one college five hundred miles away from home and when I was accepted, I didn’t bother applying anywhere else. After all, I didn’t have the time.

Senior year seemed go by at warp speed. One day it was Homecoming and it seemed as if the next day was June 14th and we were graduating. Summer passed in a blur and then it was time to leave for college.

The moment my parents drove off, leaving me surrounded by suitcases, blankets, and books, a suffocating wave of homesickness swept over me. What was I doing so far from home? Why had I chosen to go to a college where I didn’t know a soul and no one knew me? Why hadn’t I stay where I belonged and done something easier, like work at the local hot dog stand or deliver newspapers, for the rest of my life? I would have been home and I wouldn’t have been so miserable. Homesickness enveloped me like the thickest and darkest of fogs, making it impossible for me to see more than a foot or two in front of myself.

But I couldn’t crawl into bed and wait to feel better. And I wouldn’t walk around crying all day long, even though that’s what I felt like doing. All I could do was force myself to act as normal — and as un-homesick — as possible. Oh, and transfer to some place closer to home ASAP.

The first few weeks of college crawled past in a homesick daze. Some inner safety guard warned me that a familiar voice over the phone would unglue me faster than wallpaper in a steamy bathroom, so I forbade my family and friends to call me. Instead, I spent my free time writing long letters to everyone I knew.

Autumn trudged along. Slowly, oh-so-slowly, I made friends with some girls on my dorm floor. Then I made a few other friends in classes and the cafeteria. I started finding people to walk across the huge campus with. And the more I found familiarity in what had first been such a strange, scary place, the less of a grip homesickness had on me.

Finally, it was Thanksgiving, my first chance to go home in almost three months. I spent the entire vacation eating, going out with my high school friends, and amazingly, missing life at college. Sunday morning, my mom drove me to the bus stop. “I know how hard it’s been on you to be away from home,” she told me as we waited for the bus to arrive. “I must have wanted to call you and tell you to come home at least a dozen times over the past few months.”

“Why didn’t you?” I asked.

Mom shrugged. “Coming home was the easy answer. And what’s easiest isn’t always what’s best.”

I thought about her words now, as I looked at my son, struggling as he tried to figure out where he wanted to spend his freshman year of college and leaning toward the easy answer, the safe one. “What’s easiest isn’t always what’s best,” I repeated, some twenty-five years after my mother had told me the same thing.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, go to Michigan if that’s where you want to be. Sure, you’ll get homesick but you’ll also survive.”

“You think so?”

I smiled at him, a smile of experience. “I know so.”

“How do you know for sure?” he questioned.

“Because I’ve been there. Besides, homesickness is miserable but it’s never fatal.”

My son smiled back at me. “That’s good to know.”

But it struck me as I put the catalogs away in a cupboard, how was I going to handle being homesick for him?

~Nell Musolf


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