Home Away From Home

May 31, 2009

Quinn Pendleton, from Washington, CT, attended her first summer program when she was 13. She spent subsequent summers at Boston Ballet, the Washington Ballet and the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts, and at 17 moved to Germany to dance with Staatsballett Berlin.

“Every year I got a little more used to going away,” says Pendleton, who’s now with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. “While the idea of being alone was daunting at first, it’s easier to talk to new people when you aren’t with people you know. I still missed home, but I had fun with new friends, and I didn’t feel as homesick.”

If you’re worried that you’ll have a hard time being away from home this summer, whether it’s for a week-long workshop or a six-week intensive, try these strategies to get the most out of your summer studies.

1. Don’t worry.
Homesickness is common, especially if you haven’t been away from home before. “Most summer students are homesick for the first 24 to 48 hours,” says Jennifer Wesling, dean of students at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, MI. It’s normal to feel sad after mom and dad drive away, so don’t feel bad about the emotions you’re experiencing.

2. Introduce yourself.
If you’re nervous about putting yourself out there, just remember: You aren’t the only one who doesn’t know anybody. “Often, it’s like everyone is waiting for one person to make the first move,” says Kelly Novitski, director of student life at the School of Am

erican Ballet in NYC. There’s lots to talk about besides dance—books, music, movies—so try whatever it takes to get people talking.

3. Be a social butterfly.
“In dance class, you don’t get to talk much,” explains Novitski. That’s why many summer intensives offer activities—ice cream socials, field trips, movie nights—to help students get to know each other. Take advantage of them! You’ll feel better overall if you’re not just sitting in your room. “The busier you are, be it shopping or exploring,” Pendleton says, “the less time you spend missing home.”

4. Talk to an adult.
You haven’t clicked with your roommates or classmates, and you’re too shy to go to social events alone. What’s your next step? Tell a counselor or staffer how you’re feeling. He or she can offer words of wisdom and connect you with other dancers who might be feeling the same way.

5. Bring home with you.
Pack pictures and small items that will remind you of home and loved ones. Mementos, from a stuffed animal to a music mix made by a friend, can comfort you when you’re feeling down. There’s another perk, too: Items from home can be conversation starters for you and your new friends.

6. Weigh the benefits.
Consider what you’re getting.  “We ask students, ‘If you were at home right now, what would you be missing by not being here?’” Wesling says. “You’d miss dance classes, meeting new friends, performances—try to look forward rather than longing for home.”

7. Keep in touch.
Write letters. Send e-mails. Call home. But try not to spend the entire conversation asking about what you’re missing. Instead, share the new memories you’re making, Novitski says. “By telling others about your experience, you can remind yourself that you’re having a good time!”

“Summer study prepared me for getting used to a new environment as a professional,” Pendleton says. However, if you do experience homesickness, remember that it gets better with time. “Now I think of home as a place to go on vacations, not where I actually live,” Pendleton says. “That’s just a part of growing up!”