Column by Emma Bjornsrud
For a lot of students, college is the first chance to live on their own, be independent and explore their interests. The transition is an individual journey, but it’s almost impossible without emotional support from family.
This is especially true when students’ families are far away. When you can’t visit face-to-face, the time spent talking on the phone or on video chat is even more special.
Courtney Yoshiyama, a second-year Western student from Honolulu, Hawaii, said she experienced homesickness when she moved to Bellingham for college.
“The transition was a struggle in the beginning,” she said. “We’re lucky to have strong relationships. I’m fortunate and appreciative.”
Lisa Moeschler, the Western Family Outreach manager, said she thinks it’s important that students include their families in their experience at college. She said Family Outreach programming gives parents a chance to see their students’ spaces.
“They’re very involved and curious and excited to see the changes that are happening in their student’s life,” she said.
Western’s New Student Services and Family Outreach center provides family programming during summer and fall orientations and Fall Family Weekend. They also produce the New Student and New Family Handbooks, Family Calendar and the Family Connections digital monthly newsletter.
“We welcome students and their families to the Western experience,” Moeschler said. “We have speakers from all over campus come for a session called Tips for Families. They give insight and resource information and how to access that information to support student success.”
Whether students need help accessing Western’s resources or not, it’s important that students and their families know they have the ability to get what they need.
Martha Zender, the Sehome High School Career Center assistant, recommended students maintain personal connections with their families by checking in regularly and inviting their parents for visits to see their environment.
“They don’t want to encroach on your schedule, life and friends,” Zender said over the phone.
As with any other relationship, the one with your family requires some TLC. To see it thrive, you have to pay it some attention and frequently stay in touch with loved ones.
Blake Berryhill, a professor at the University of Alabama, said relationships between families and students change with the transition to college.
“It becomes more of a peer relationship as individuals get older,” he said. “But maintaining a quality relationship with caregivers can really contribute to one’s success in college, and it’s been shown that the quality of parent relationships can really impact mental health and well-being.”
As the relationship changes, being able to communicate needs and emotions is healthy and beneficial, Berryhill said. The student should be able to tell their family how they need to be supported.
“It’s a time of growing independence and growing autonomy, but it’s also one of staying connected to family because family members are a really positive support system,” Berryhill said over the phone. “So, having that positive support system, whatever that looks like during the college years, can be really important.”
Because family is a big part of a student’s support network, they should be included in the student’s experience, Moeschler said.
“Stay connected, come to events, take advantage of the resources that are available,” she said. “Their support is absolutely needed. We want to help give families as much access to the resources that are here as possible.”
Adjusting to college can be difficult for students and their families. It’s uncomfortable to be immersed in a new environment without the people you’ve always relied on.
Whether your family is near or far, take a moment to give them a call. Let them know what’s going on in your life and make the effort to strengthen your relationship.