Home sweet CSU

Oct 182005
Authors: Margaret Canty

Freshmen have been at CSU for close to two months. Many are making friends, feeling comfortable and adjusting to Fort Collins. However, just as many have done exactly the opposite.

"It has been really hard for me to open up to people. I didn't think they'd like me, so I didn't want people to know me. I was scared and felt like I didn't belong here," said Jesse Lyon, freshman speech communications major.

Lyon is not alone. Jody Donovan, director of Student Transitions and Parent and Family Programs said students adjust at different paces.

"Students are at all different places at all different times," Donovan said, "and we're geared to support students in all phases."

Steve Ross, clinical psychologist at the University Counseling Center, suggests using the counseling center for support to those having trouble "getting connected socially."

"It's important that students know that other people are going through all parts of development here," he said.

Ross said for some, feeling at home will take most of the semester and depends a lot on making friends.

"We're relational beings. Feeling at home has a lot to do with the number and depth of relationships we have in a given place," he said.

Donovan said she believes in a transitioning theory by William Bridges, which involves three phases before total adjustment. She calls the first phase the "grief and loss" stage, which can happen as early as summer break.

"This is when the student's beginning to let go of the old and say goodbye," Donovan said. "They're still focusing on what they've left."

She describes the next stage, called the neutral zone, as "one foot out of the old, but not in the new yet." This stage, she said, is characterized by ambivalence, depression, irritability and feeling "icky."

"Many students are in this stage right now. They're not as excited about being here because it's not new anymore, and school is getting hard with midterms. It's a gray time," she said.

Although some depression is expected, it can become a problem for some people.

"To some extent depression is normal," Ross said. "It becomes more worrisome when they start isolating themselves, using alcohol to cope and not going to class. That's not homesickness, that's a bigger issue."

Many cope with this stage differently.

"I lived near Fort Collins, so I went home when I was feeling out of place," said Ryan Smith, senior biology major.

Donovan said every individual knows how much time they need at home, but spending every weekend away from campus makes for a more difficult transition.

"When you're gone every weekend you miss out on many of the spontaneous times. Those that go home on the weekend usually are not as connected to the university or a friend group," she said.

Lyon experienced this problem.

"I wasn't having fun, so I felt I needed to go home on the weekends," she said. "It was my comfort system, but it ended up working against me because I couldn't meet people."

Relief eventually comes with the third and final stage called "new beginnings." This is where the student has adjusted to Fort Collins, is making friends and getting excited about living here.

"(I felt at home at CSU) after being here a couple of weeks. I got to know the guys on my floor, started hanging out and having fun," said Tyler Degen, junior mechanical engineering major. "My transition was pretty smooth."

Donovan's job is to help make all freshmen's transitions easy. Preview, Ram Welcome, freshman workshops and training Resident Assistants are just a few ways CSU has tried to make new students feel at home.

"R.A.s are a great resource to help students feel connected, guide them as a role model and help freshmen transition," she said.

For those struggling with adjusting, CSU has several outlets.

"I would encourage freshmen to talk with their R.A., go to the counseling center or go to the freshmen workshops to help you feel more comfortable on campus," Donovan said.

Lyon said her R.A. helped her decide she needed to go out and meet people to help her situation.

"I had to have a realization. You make the college experience good for yourself. It doesn't just come to you," she said.

Degen's advice for those struggling to find their place at CSU is simple.

"Stick with it, even if you're feeling lost. As time goes on, you'll find you're place," he said. "Keep on keeping on."


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