Personal and Social Transition
You will find that new students undergo a tremendous amount of change over the course of their university career — either drastically within the first months, slowly over four years, or somewhere in between. Even though it’s normal and inevitable, dramatic changes can be shocking to family members. Please keep in mind that each person’s experience is unique. If your student identifies that they need assistance and are uncertain where they can go for help the Centre for New Students and the Wellness Education Centre are valuable resources on campus that specialize in offering emotional, academic, and social supports. What follows are some of the personal changes that are common among undergraduate students:
- Some students who have had lifelong dreams of being a doctor or veterinarian may realize that they would rather be an artist. Changing majors and programs is very normal; many students change their program of study more than once during their university career. Try to be patient and supportive as your family member explores their academic interests and potential career paths. Sometimes students will be shocked to discover that they excelled in a subject in high school in part because of the charisma and dedication of an exceptional teacher. When they get to university and have to work more independently and with more complexity, they may be less inspired and perhaps not as strong in a particular subject as they had once thought. Sometimes this is really hard on one’s self-esteem.
- Relationships will often change throughout a new student’s first year. Romantic relationships may change or deteriorate and long-standing friendships may become strained. Relationships with family members may also experience changes — some families find their relationships improve as a new student becomes more independent, appreciating each other more as individuals. Many of our students have commented that once they leave home, they realize that their parents are real people, and appreciate their support, advice and guidance much more than when they were living at home.
- Your family member may feel badly about missing events back home, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Sharing photos can be a nice way to involve them in an event, but it may be best not to dwell on how much they missed out on.
- New students will sometimes contact family when they are feeling down, either due to a bout of minor illness, a bad grade, a deteriorated relationship, or even just a bad day. Your family member may be looking for the comforts of home and may unload the stress onto you. Brief episodes of depression and anxiety are common among university students. The stress of the ongoing academic pressure, on top of changing relationships, new friendships, and a new environment, can take their toll on a university student, regardless of whether they are in first year or fourth year. Students are encouraged to pursue a healthy balance across each of the seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, occupational, intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical.
- Understand the highs and lows of your family member’s development as a student and provide the support and encouragement where they are needed most. Students may have the perception that these are supposed to be the best years of their lives. When they are afraid, confused, and overwhelmed it is important to realize their experiences are a normal part of life.
Encountering academic difficulties, not enjoying the area of study they thought they would enjoy, and a feeling of “not knowing what to do” occurs with many students. Help them to reach out to their Residence Advisor, the Centre for New Students or the Library for assistance, guidance, and support.
Managing Stress and Getting Enough Sleep
The University of Guelph offers a variety of courses and programs to help students improve their ability to manage stress and improve relaxation. The Stress Management and High Performance Clinic has details on these and other programs.
- Relaxation and stress management skills training
- Better sleep
- Managing headaches
- Exam anxiety
- Biofeedback (or "feedback about the body")
Besides nutrition and physical activity, sleep is essential to student’s health, safety, and quality of life. Practicing good sleep hygiene involves a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness. U of G students can learn more about sleep in this sleep disorders toolkit. The Wellness Education Centre also has related resources.
In the first six weeks of school, we get this message out to every new student: Eating well, getting enough sleep, and being physically active are the keys to a student’s success in and out of the classroom.
About Living in Residence
Most students find that living in residence is completely different from any previous experience they have had. Two of the key features that distinguish life in a residence community are the close proximity in which large numbers of students live and the sense of sharing that emerges as a result (living space, learning needs, and personal belongings). It is understandable that there will be both challenges and rewards for students who experience living in residence. For this reason the University of Guelph student community and Student Housing Services collaborated to develop the Residence Community Living Standards (RCLS); a document that helps students to understand and navigate those challenges and rewards. The RCLS outlines Residence Life’s philosophy for community living. As residents in the community, it is each student’s responsibility to act in accordance with the individual and collective rights and responsibilities outlined in the RCLS as well as all Federal, Provincial, and Municipal laws and University policies and regulations.
The RCLS is categorized into seven areas: alcohol and drugs, guests, respect, fire safety, building care, safety and security, and dignity and integrity. The related procedures for managing disruptive behaviour have been developed with the intention of balancing the needs and rights of the community and the individual, where learning is promoted along with open discussion, and where the University’s obligations are upheld. Behaviour that does not comply with the RCLS will typically be followed up by the Residence Life Staff, who identify any problematic behaviour and take steps to resolve and/or document the incident. More information on the process that Residence Life Staff may follow in an attempt to find a resolution to incidents that occur is outlined in the RCLS, as well as potential outcomes and the right to appeal process.
There are times when parents and family members have a strong desire to call Student Housing Services in order to speak with someone directly on behalf of a student. It is important to keep in mind that the University is obligated to regard information about individual students as private. No matter how well intentioned you are, information regarding a student’s discipline history or their comings and goings cannot be disclosed without an individual student’s consent. Residence Life staff would, however, be happy to talk with you about the nature of their policies, the procedures typically used to investigate situations, the types of sanctions that might be imposed and other services and programs that are available to help students.
In cases where an incident occurs, such as a roommate or community conflict, Student Housing Services staff members are available to provide assistance. It is believed that the best time to alleviate problems is when they are in the early stages of development. Unfortunately, all too often students are embarrassed or feel reluctant to seek help — our society unfairly teaches us that a “good” person is someone who can handle their own problems. Instead, a more helpful perspective might be to recognize that learning to handle a new type of situation or a more complex relationship is not something that we innately know how to do. One of the most efficient ways of learning to manage interpersonal relationships is through the assistance of others. The more that a situation is left to linger, the more tightly knotted the emotions involved become, and in turn the more difficult it may be to avoid further escalation or to avoid an outcome that feels unjust to one or both of the parties. When mild conflicts first occur, encourage open communication from the outset and when any problem occurs, suggest that your family member consult with the Residence Life Staff (even if it is just a casual conversation). On a similar note, there is a tool called the “Roommate Starter Kit” that helps to build a strong working relationship between roommates. You may want to highlight this tool as a way for students to take a proactive approach to avoiding conflict. It can be found on the Student Housing Services website. Alternately, students may wish to drop in to the Student Support Network (SSN) to talk with fellow students who have gone through the same process already.
About Living Off Campus
Students who are living off campus in their first year have access to a broad range of campus resources designed to promote student success, including some that are created specifically for students not living in residence. It is important to note that the residence experience is not for everyone, and that all students can have a positive University of Guelph experience regardless of their living arrangements. Living on and off campus comes with benefits and challenges.
In the early stages of the academic year, it is not always clear to off campus students how they can find a sense of community, which is integral to feelings of belonging on campus and academic success. It is strongly recommended that students register with Off Campus Connection (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be connected with a senior student who is also living off campus. This program helps students navigate resources, keep connected to social events, and find ways to engage in all the opportunities Guelph offers. Connecting early ensures that participants have someone to connect to should any questions or challenges come up during the year.
Living off campus can allow students to have a stronger sense of independence, or can help first year students to remain connected with their home communities - both of which can be very valuable. The key challenge comes with having a higher level of individual responsibility to seek out a support network of peers and friends. Investing the time to find a niche on campus where they have valuable friendships helps with navigating the everyday stresses of being a university student.
Students living off campus are invited to a special event called the Off Campus Kick Off, which usually occurs on the first day of Orientation Week. If not able to attend, a similar event is held a few days later, called the Late-Comer Catch Up. At any point in the year, students are welcome to register with Off Campus Connection and can do so by emailing email@example.com.
Emotional Support and Homesickness
Most students experience a longing for the comforts of home at one time or another during their first year at university. For some students this feeling passes in a relatively short period of time, but for others it lingers or becomes so strong that it starts to become overwhelming. It can be very disquieting for parents and family members to observe a loved one who seems to be homesick. Below are some suggestions of ways to respond.
Don’t dismiss how they are feeling. Even if it does pass fairly quickly, at the time it feels real and if it’s affecting them, then it’s important to lend it some credence. Encourage meaningful involvement in the campus and local communities - one of the best ways of overcoming homesickness. Student Volunteer Connections (located in Raithby House), for instance, can help students to become more familiar with some of the on-campus and off-campus involvement opportunities. Student Life invites students to get involved in numerous ways. For a snapshot of Student Life’s programs and services for first-year students please visit pages (X & Y).
If what they’re experiencing is troubling to them, encourage them to seek out someone to talk to about it. Options for emotional support are numerous and include, but are not limited to: Off Campus Connection staff the Student Support Network drop-in centre (located in Raithby House), the Wellness Education Centre, Counselling Services, Residence Life Staff, International Student Advisor, Aboriginal Student Advisor, Good to talk 24/7 Student Helpline, or call and speak with someone at the Centre for New Students at ext. 52277. For crisis services students can also contact Here 24/7 at 1-844- 437-3247.
Resist the desire to fix the problem, to visit the campus too frequently, to have them come home at every opportunity, or to be very distant. Enjoying university life and being successful here means maintaining a careful balance of connection with home and engagement within the campus community. For most students, home has been an important place that has grounded them for virtually their entire lives; giving it up entirely can be very unsettling. At the same time, being so involved in home life that there is little time or energy left to participate in the campus community makes it difficult to feel like this is a meaningful, satisfying or fulfilling place to live and study.
If the student from your family is experiencing homesickness, you might suggest that they get in touch with the Coordinator, New Student Community within the Centre for New Students. We have both student volunteers and professional staff who would be happy to discuss their experiences and we can suggest opportunities that might be available to them. In particular, we have had success in connecting first year students with others who tend to be quieter and/or who feel more on their own. The Student Transition Office staff can be reached by telephone at 519-824-4120, ext.52277 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.