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Zak Wood
University of Colorado orientation leaders talk to incoming freshmen at a past summer orientation session. CU officials say one-third of new students are initially homesick upon arriving on campus.
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When University of Colorado junior Zach Gilmore made the trek to college from Bakersfield, Calif., in 2007, he endured a bit of a tough transition to college life.

“I missed my friends pretty bad,” said Gilmore, who now loves Colorado. “I mean, yeah, it was cool being away from my parents and being able to be an adult, but it’s pretty hard when you’re dropped in this pool of like thousands of students.”

Dr. Karen Raforth, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at CU, said homesickness is part of the college process.

“We have a lot of students coming in who are just really struggling,” Raforth said.

This year, Raforth said, Counseling and Psychological Services has seen more homesick students than normal.

“It’s painful; everybody feels a little homesick,” Raforth said. “But that’s normal. It’s overwhelming when you think of all the new things students are experiencing. They get excited about coming to college and then once they’re here, it’s like culture shock because it may be so different from their home.”

Attending a school of 30,000 students, sharing a room with a stranger, sleeping in a different bed, going from 30 classmates to hundreds all are factors that contribute to homesickness, Raforth said.

“It’s the little things that you miss — like your mom’s home cooking,” Raforth said.

She said about one-third of new CU students get homesick.

“Students can get overwhelmed pretty quickly,” she said. “All of the things that give you security and confidence are gone. There are so many levels of change, your social life changes, your academic life changes.”

Raforth said that although academics need to be top priority, school alone isn’t enough to sustain healthy student life.

Overcoming homesickness can be as simple as forming friendships, talking with a resident advisor or a professor the student feels comfortable with, joining clubs, organizations, club sports or intramurals, she said.

“We have 400 clubs and organizations,” Raforth said. “That is an easy entrée into building a friendship — you aren’t starting from nothing, you know you both have something in common.”

Raforth said not to overextend, but take a step out.

“Students do need to help themselves because with nothing, homesickness can turn into depression and anxiety,” Raforth said.

Freshman Joe Gracin said he hasn’t experienced any pains of missing home.

“My family lives in Colorado so I can see them whenever,” said Gracin who is looking forward to college football season. “Plus it’s only been like a week. I’m having fun without my parents’ rules.”

Joe Courtney, manager of Psychological Health and Psychiatry at CU’s Wardenburg Health Center, said it’s important homesick students don’t turn to alcohol and drug abuse.

“The excessive use of alcohol and drugs will just exacerbate any anxiety and alienation,” Courtney said. “They may think that going along with their peers and using substances is the way to connect, but actually it’s not going to help them feel more settled here.”

Courney said frequent calls home can be helpful for both the homesick student and the parent.

“If the student has a good relationship with the family, that’s sometimes the primary support as they make that transition to being away from home and in a new setting,” Courtney said. “Gradually, those phone calls will diminish over time as they make friends.”

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