Finding Clarity Through Homesickness
Placing Faith over fear is how Meghan Mazzola now chooses to live her life, with each new day centered on God, finding gratitude and joy in every situation.
Having grown up in a comfortable home in small-town La Crosse with one older sister and devoted parents who were active in their children’s lives, Meghan felt comfortable—secure with her place in the world. Abruptly, she lost this serenity as she transitioned into the dormitory of her “dream” university—the University of St. Thomas (UST) in St. Paul, Minn. Once there, intense bouts of homesickness took control of her emotions during freshman year. Peace didn’t return until the following March. Support from family and friends eased her insecurity, but she had to find other ways to cope. Meghan began devoting herself to an active life of Faith, calling upon God for strength to overcome fear and isolation in a strange environment. She now shares her experience with the hope that it will inspire others to face their vulnerabilities and seek their path to joy in all situations through a greater devotion to God and a positive approach to life.
From birth, Meghan had a solid Catholic upbringing. She and her older sister had been altar servers at Mass in her home parish, Mary, Mother of the Church, in La Crosse. There, her mother was a cantor, and her father was involved with the men’s club. Proudly, she proclaims that her family genuinely enjoyed their time together. Having attended Aquinas Catholic Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, Meghan relished familiarity with families from her church, school, and community, feeling exceptionally fortunate to have enduring relationships with a close-knit group of friends. Her sense of place, exceptional education and active participation in school activities, where she claims to have been “super active” in sports, especially soccer and volleyball, seems to have been the foundation for her remarkable self-confidence and strong will to succeed. Such heartfelt blessings, she now feels, probably contributed to the homesickness she felt when she moved to the university dorm.
“We will never get past our weakness if we don’t open up about it—especially with ourselves! Telling my family didn’t cure my homesickness, but it made me feel better knowing someone else knew. It was no longer just me quietly struggling.”
Transitions and Turmoil
Enrolled as a freshman with an economics major and communication and journalism minor, Meghan happily joined the collegiate volleyball team at UST. She moved into the campus dorm in mid-August, about three weeks before the non-athlete students arrived. Alone in her dorm room, she began to experience homesickness. She explains, “I could never quite make my dorm feel like home—with my mini fridge 6 inches from my bed. I felt confined! I could have walked to a coffee shop or restaurant, but I didn’t know the city well enough. Everything seemed a bit overwhelming.” Her entire life had been spent among people who knew her, loved her, protected her and built her up. Now, coping with the deafening silence of her thoughts, she almost felt physical pain, similar to the nervous stomach aches she experienced during times of heightened anxiety as a child. She continues, “I recognized the homesickness because I was happy and loving every moment of the [college] experience when I was in class, at volleyball, or while busy with others. But at the end of the day, when I was alone, I felt disconnected from my home. I wished I could walk into my favorite coffee shop, get my usual drink, and say ‘Hi’ to people I knew. Constantly wondering what my parents or best friends were doing, I craved the emotional sensations of love and peace that accompanied their companionship. I was out of my comfort zone, wanting to return to something easy and familiar, where I didn’t have to try so hard.”
Support Brings Clarity
Meghan considered transferring to a La Crosse college, where she’d be familiar with her surroundings and could enjoy the company of family and longtime friends. “That’s when my parents stepped in with support, encouraging me to stick it out through the end of the fall semester before seriously considering a transfer,” said Meghan. “My sister and I hung out together, alleviating some of the loneliness.” Knowing her family had her back, she found the strength to follow her chosen path. “Deep down, I knew St. Thomas was where I was supposed to be because I was so excited about it! My sister was close by, and I loved the volleyball team! Once new places and people became more familiar, it helped me adjust,” she states satisfactorily. Aware she needed more support, Meghan joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), where volleyball team members met once weekly for a Bible study. With similar schedules, mindsets, and ambitious goals, they shared what they found difficult about their circumstances and how hard they were on themselves. “It was great to feel free to express my emotions while discussing Bible verses and how they might apply to our lives. This group became a big part of overcoming my homesickness.” Today, she encourages college students to join similar groups, as most campuses have these programs available.
“Whatever circumstances I find myself in—gratitude has to come first. I look for joy in every situation. It seems complicated, but everything’s more manageable when I accept God as my support.”
Finding Home Through Faith
Despite her strong Catholic upbringing, Meghan reveals, “I had more of an academic sense of knowing God, rather than a spiritual sense of knowing God.” Realizing family and teammate support wasn’t enough during her transition to college, she developed a constant spiritual companionship with God and began to appreciate Faith. She prayed regularly, attended Mass, and connected with the Lord throughout her day, while waiting in line to get coffee or walking to class. “I realized true joy could only be found through God, which brought about gratitude for everything in my life—even the homesickness! Through prayer and an attitude of gratitude, I learned that this is just a season of my life that I should appreciate because it won’t be here forever. I trained myself to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. This strategy worked. My circumstances changed when my mindset changed. My location no longer mattered because God was always accessible. My physical address no longer defines my home. God is my home. Without God, I don’t know how people get through their toughest days or seasons. Difficult times forced me to lean on God and realize how great He is. I’m just thankful I have Him to lean on.”
“My physical address no longer defines my home. God is my home.”
Faith Over Fear Accomplished
Taking advantage of her college degrees, Meghan is now enjoying a financial analyst position, helping the marketing team make informed decisions about retaining or discontinuing products. “I’m working with brands I’ve used throughout my life and having fun with the job!” She recently became an author when she filled the open hours as a senior at UST during the COVID-19 lockdown, sharing her experience with homesickness in an easy-to-read devotional book. Through it, she hopes to encourage others to recognize and embrace their vulnerabilities through life’s changes while learning to find the joy only God can bring to each new situation. The self-published book, titled “faith OVER fear, learning to trust God through your transition to college,” covers 15 topics related to her experiences. Each section includes personal experiences, related Bible verses, action plans, a prayer, and a place for the reader to jot down personal reflections. The book may be helpful for students transitioning from home to college life as they learn to overcome their fear with Faith. Copies are available by visiting Meghan’s website: faithoverfear.me.
Story by Collene A. Spaeth
Published in the March/April 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine