A taste of home

Students ease homesickness with blankets, posters—and cheese




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Holly O’Neill, Port Gibson, N.Y. Interpreting; Lori Karker, Eau Claire, Wis. International studies; Quinté Osborne, Buffalo, N.Y. Electrical engineering technology; Wendy Gutcher, Fairfax Station, Va. Interpreting; Jeffrey Kaiser, Albany, N.Y. Computer engineering

When Holly O’Neill has a bad day, she slips into her RIT sweatpants, NTID hoodie and slipper socks and snuggles with her fuzzy blankets and pillows in her dorm room.

Lori Karker, who will be starting her fourth year this fall as an international studies major, nibbles on Wisconsin cheese when she needs a taste of home.

A few weeks before starting classes at RIT last year, Quinté Osborne created a collage of pictures from high school to remind him of friends and family he would leave behind.

O’Neill, who is starting her fourth year as an interpreting student and is also a resident advisor, says it is “hugely important” for students to bring comfort items with them to school.

Along with blankets and pillows, O’Neill hangs her own artwork on the dorm walls, keeps trinkets in her room and even decorates the hallways during the holidays.

“It can get stressful,” says O’Neill, who grew up in Penfield and Port Gibson, N.Y. “It’s nice to know you still have a place that is yours even though you aren’t at home. You can connect to something that feels secure.”

Jennifer Lukomski, an associate professor of school psychology and a practicing psychologist, says comfort items can act like a bridge while students are making the transition from living at home to living at school.

In today’s world, students may not even need such tangible items as fuzzy blankets and pillows. A cellphone is a way for students to instantly reach out to their parents. Lukomski compared it to an infant first learning to separate from her mother. After taking a few steps, the child might look back to make sure mom is still there. For young adults, that look back can be accomplished with a telephone call, by watching a family-related YouTube video or clicking through Facebook photos.

Jeffrey Kaiser of Albany, N.Y, who just finished his first year in computer engineering, Skypes with his parents. Kaiser also has a poster from Once Upon a Mattress, the musical he was in during high school, to remind him of less-stressful high school days.

Unlike Kaiser, Karker didn’t bring a special item with her to school. But three years ago, her mother asked the Eau Claire, Wis., native if New York had any good cheese.

“I told her it wasn’t the same as Wisconsin cheese,” she says. “On my birthday I got a package from her and when I opened it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“It was full of Wisconsin cheese, from smoked cheese strings to horseradish cheese to chocolate fudge cheese.”

Now it’s a tradition for her mom to send the care package.

Osborne, an electrical engineering technology major from Buffalo, keeps the framed collage of photos on his dresser in his dorm room.

In it are pictures from graduation, prom and the last day of school.

In a couple of years, Osborne says, he’ll make another collage with photos from RIT.

“I look at this one every day,” he says. “It brings back memories.”

Alumni share their comfort items

We asked the almost 15,000 people who like Rochester Institute of Technology on Facebook and the more than 4,300 who like the RIT Alumni Association what comfort items from home they brought with them to school. Here’s what some of them said.

“A small bottle of sand from the ocean.” — Karen Jones-Johnson ’68 (business administration)

“My grandmother crocheted a ‘ripple afghan’ for me to take to college—I was the first grandchild to go. That and my stuffed monkey and a lucky cowrie shell I found on the beach in Pakistan when I was 4 did it. I flew up to school from Texas, so I had two suitcases and a dress bag—I still travel light!” — Julie LeMaster Gould ’80 (biology)

“I brought my PS/2, but it was an IBM PS/2 Model 60.” — Jeremiah Parry-Hill ’02 (information technology)

“Since I moved right into Racquet Club for my first year at RIT, I had to furnish my room, so everything reminded me of home. I was always comforted.” — Christine Plachko ’94 (interior design)

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Holly O’Neill, Port Gibson, N.Y. Interpreting; Lori Karker, Eau Claire, Wis. International studies; Quinté Osborne, Buffalo, N.Y. Electrical engineering technology; Wendy Gutcher, Fairfax Station, Va. Interpreting; Jeffrey Kaiser, Albany, N.Y. Computer engineering