If you talk to anybody who has experienced living in the USA as a college student-athlete, you will likely hear the A-Z of how awesome it was for them. By the end of their four year experience, with cap, gown, and a bag full of memories in hand, it would be easy to forget to reflect upon the early months of their time in the USA. It would be easy to forget those early days when homesickness would have engulfed most, if not all of them.
I, for one, embarked on my college journey to the USA in the midst of the Australian summer. My red, sun-damaged face probably looked strange to Oklahomans as I arrived on campus drenched in snow. This was to be the first of many culture shocks. After being settled into my dormitory with one of my new Czech teammates, I was quickly introduced to the world of good ol’ USA country cooking. Our dorm cafeteria had an unbelievable selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I couldn’t quite work out how one could have ‘biscuits and gravy’ for breakfast but I didn’t care – it was free and it tasted great.
The next day, we had our first official team training session, and I was about to discover a completely new coaching style! My new coach quickly endeared himself to us with boxes full of racquets and Nike gear from head to toe. What followed was a gruelling session ‘highlighted’ by running the stairs from bottom to top of the nearby football stadium several times. ‘Welcome to college tennis,’ I thought. I was loving this.
Then came the true test – how good was I? Was I worth the investment that the coach and University had put into me? Well, history shows that I lost my first six matches. Suffice to say, I was not performing, and very quickly I was starting to question myself and what the heck I was doing here in this place! I blamed the coach, the food, the climate, even my new bed! What I came to understand after some weeks in this rut, was that homesickness was the primary cause of my poor performance.
Leading Australian Sports Psychologist, former ATP professional and All-American athlete Anthony Ross asserts that this sort of scenario is very normal.
“A number of factors tend to affect performance in a negative way. In this environment, being away from home for the first time, adapting to a new culture, adjusting to a new way of life – all of these can lead to periods of homesickness.”
Ross adds, “Suffering from a bout of homesickness is completely normal. It becomes a problem when the student is not aware that he or she is homesick. “
For me, I needed to talk to others in the same boat as me. I talked to some teammates who had experienced homesickness in the early parts of their college lives. I then talked with my coach. The coach moved me down the playing order, I won several matches on the trot and suddenly everything was rosy again. It took a short time, but it was well worth hanging in there when parts of me wanted to fly home back to my comfort zone
The great news is that there are plenty of things you can do to overcome homesickness. Talking to others, staying positive and setting goals helped me. Anthony Ross has provided his own tips to overcoming homesickness.
- Be prepared – being aware that homesickness is a likely part of the process of settling in abroad will help if and when it does set in.
- Talk to others around you – be careful though, only talk to positive people who have been in your situation.
- Tip for Parents – be supportive and understanding. Encourage your son or daughter to hang in there. Importantly, it is important not to act on instinct and pay for their ticket home. Student-athletes who can battle through the temporary homesickness will be stronger for the experience.
- Get busy – set goals and refuse to let homesickness detract from them. Recall the reasons that you wanted to pursue this pathway and let them be the driving force.
- Homesickness is temporary – understand that in most cases, if you take the steps above, you will be on your way to enjoying every minute of your time in the USA/abroad.
Blog contributor – Anthony Ross
Anthony Ross was formerly an All-American Pepperdine University Tennis player, and his combined singles/doubles winning percentage of 85% (122-21) under coach Peter Smith is the second best of Peter’s coaching career, behind only Steve Johnson. Anthony went on to compete as a professional doubles player at tournaments including Wimbledon.
Anthony is a coach and sport psychologist based in Brisbane, Australia. He frequently travels on the ATP and WTA tours and has worked with players during competition against Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.