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NIU helps students fight homesickness

September 13, 2010

Teaching students not to isolate themselves helps them avoid homesickness.

Homesickness does not have a chance with incoming NIU students.

With the concerted efforts of staff, counselors and community advisors, the seasonal malady is diagnosed and treated early. 

That process began days after new students arrived on the DeKalb campus with Huskie House Calls and it will continue through the semester with other counseling opportunities. 

During Huskie House Calls, dozens of NIU Housing & Dining employees, as well as dozens of other volunteers, fan out across campus with their first remedy for homesickness: a handshake in residence halls. 

They knock on the doors of hundreds of students asking if they are finding their way around campus, making friends, or getting along with their roommates, said Michael Stang, executive director of Housing and Dining. 

“This is the time of year when we see a lot of homesickness,” Stang said. “These are students who are away from home for the first time and are having difficulty making the transition. When asked a few days after arriving, they say they are ready to go home.” 

Sometimes that home is as far away as Beijing and Los Angeles or as close as Rockford or Chicago. 

During the House Calls, volunteers speak with community advisers to make sure they know the signs students show when missing families, friends and hometowns. 

Some of those symptoms include feeling reluctant to leave their resident hall rooms and declining invitations to socialize. When left unchecked, homesickness can lead to unhealthy habits, depression, academic failure and withdrawal, said Neptune community adviser Gabriella Wright. 

Northern Pact“We intentionally engage residents by living the Northern Pact, which is a set of ideals NIU uses to build a better community. We are always watching for signs of isolation,” Wright said. “We help them build new relationships here, and we help them build a new kind of home.” 

The house calls are considered more like house warming visits, Stang said. 

“When we make the annual house calls, we not only welcome the students to campus, but we encourage them to get involved with campus activities and organizations,” he said. “We have great organizations at NIU.” 

Many times, all that is needed is to coax a student out of a room and extend a hand. If that does not work, counseling is suggested, he said. First, it starts informally with community advisers. 

“We let them know that we’re friends, and many of us have been there too,” Wright said. 

If the problem is more serious, community  advisoes or students can call the Counseling and Student Development Center at (815) 753-1206 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Sometimes, talking with a non-student adult helps,” Stang said. “We recognize the transition to an academic setting can be overwhelming. We want students to know we are there to help.” 

That help continues weekly throughout the year during hall council meetings, Stang said. Each Tuesday at 9 p.m, Housing and Dining employees are available to talk to students about concerns they have with their resident halls. 

“This is another example of outreach we provide,” Stang said. 

by Gerard Dziuba