Battling Homesickness

Even International Students Get the Blues

Staying isolated at home can trigger feelings of homesickness for international students at GCC, said Miguel Salud, 20, a student from the Philippines who pitches on the baseball team.

“Just focus more on getting out and do what you have to do,” Salud said. “Baseball training is what clears my mind.  It’s healthy to have a good hobby that you are devoted to.”

GCC attracts about 550 international students each semester from more than 60 nations including South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Armenia and the Philippines.

The first few weeks for an international student in the United States may be chaotic and stressful. They have to figure out transportation, insurance, lodging and set up bank accounts. After registering for classes, international students face the nerve-wracking challenge of making new friends.

Compared to students’ home countries, people in the U.S. speak English differently, the pronunciations and accents far different than what students are taught abroad. The weather changes dramatically. The school system can be confusing. The trees are taller. The roads are wider. The campus is bigger, and the food portions are undoubtedly larger.

Social media provides connections with people back home but can also prompt homesickness. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites trigger feelings of isolation. Seeing family gatherings and parties hosted by friends can make international students wish they were back home. Some might break down while viewing pictures of their family hanging out or seeing friends celebrate at parties, sporting events or other activities.

Murray Stach, an academic counselor for international students and student development professor, said homesickness can hinder students.

“Students who are homesick tend not to do as well in academics. They don’t feel connected, and they’re lonesome,” he said. “They focus more on being away from home, family, and friends, than trying to create new relationships.”

Vanessa Muhl, 24, a Biology major from Germany, heads the campus International Students Association. Her group organizes on-campus and off-campus activities, including hikes, campus tours, visits to cities throughout California. The group also provides space for students to converse with one another, introduce themselves, talk about their concerns and meet people from different cultures.

The association is scheduled to meet March 24 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in San Rafael 114.

“Most of our activities are based on American culture to let the students experience the difference of nature and culture. It’s also important that the students have the possibility to make friends and create new relationships,” Muhl said.

“We take care of these students,” she said. “We make sure they are comfortable. We make sure they grow and get to know the American culture and environment.”