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Ask Auntie Chambu: Faraway Fever- Homesickness
By Christina Nana

Dear Auntie Chambu:

I am a 20yr. old former Buea University student. I won the U.S. green card lottery and my Uncle here in Minnesota sponsored me to come further my studies. I just finished my college prep course for the upcoming Fall semester but I was having difficulties concentrating on my class work. My Uncle is so busy working two jobs that I can't really talk to him. I feel frustrated and lonely. I worry about not having the confidence that I need to survive life on campus or life in America. What can I do?

Edward Cheh,
Minnesota

Dear Edward:

I applaud you for your courage in coming to the United States to study. I think that having and seizing the opportunity to meet your educational goals is half of a winning battle. It takes guts to leave your comfort zone and security in familiar surroundings, your family and friends to come to uncommon ground. Just the idea of the cultural differences in American society can be discouraging. You are indeed, a brave young man.

It sounds like you are homesick; missing the support system of your home, community or country. But the good thing about it is that you have friends, family and loved ones left behind worth longing for.

Let me assure you that those feelings of nostalgia for your home are normal. Most people feel some form of distress when they travel. Just the idea of not being in their home or not sleeping in their own beds can cause pain while you are away. Experts believe that this and other negative feelings are owing to the absence from familiar surroundings, family and routines. Some people may experience feelings of anxiety, helplessness, anger, depression, difficulty sleeping, obsessive thoughts, and even physical ailments such as headaches or stomach aches. Luckily, homesickness is short term- so your own situation will soon be resolved.

May I inform you that most American universities hold a special orientation for international students at the beginning of each school year, in September. During this course the students are provided information about both the school and the immediate community. I suggest that you first of all, familiarize yourself with your school's surroundings. Next you should learn as much as possible about the community, town or city in which your university is located. For instance, learn the bus or train routes to town. Locate shopping centers, post offices, barber shops etc. This will help increase your feeling of security in your new environment. Also, during the foreign student orientation program, try to meet and make new friends in order to build a circle of support while away from home. The friends in this group may have similar anxieties, fears, and adjustment issues.

As an eighteen yr. old I came to this country in the sixties and had to negotiate not only a new society but one wracked by racial tensions we knew nothing of back home. Fortunately. I joined a close-knit community of international students that quickly became my surrogate family.

Experts also offer additional coping strategies:
--- Give yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings and to university life
--- Have special familiar objects that will help you maintain emotional contact with your home/loved ones such as photos, letters or family memorabilia.
--- Maintain contact with your family via e-mail, letters or even phone calls to hear family members' voices
---Try to balance school work and play. Participate in activities you enjoy so as to provide distractions and physical exercise. Most universities have many clubs or societies from which to choose. The department of recreation or the Y in town also usually offer inexpensive activities/events.
--- Remember to get enough food and sleep daily because the lack of either could affect your emotional and/or physical health.
--- Talk to someone such as a peer, student advisor, your doctor, friends/family, chaplain, or school counselor
--- Access help by obtaining information through the web, support groups or by reading self-help books.

Good luck to you.

Auntie Chambu, 52, was born and raised in the grasslands of Cameroon. This sheltered nineteen year old, boarding school girl came to a rebellious 60's United States to pursue a college degree and her dreams. She garnered degrees in social work and counseling, got married, and had four kids who constantly put her education and home spun wisdom to the test. After over twenty years of living on the two continents, her advice has a great mixture of traditional African insights with a spirited American independent thinker streak.

Need answers to a problem? Send your question to Auntie Chambu at askauntie@africanmag.com. Only letters selected for publication will be answered.

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