The Emotional Rollercoaster That is College Winter Break
My fingers, which had been typing furiously since I boarded the Amtrak at 11:30 that morning, finally ceased moving. I quickly scanned the last few sentences of my take-home final. Did my arguments about Virginia Woolf’s essay, “How Should One Read a Book?” make sense? I wasn’t completely sure. A quick scan of my text revealed no glaring grammatical errors, so I decided I was finished. I’ll admit that I felt a tad guilty submitting what was probably a five-page string of nonsense. But, with only twenty minutes left before the the 5:00 PM due date, I didn’t have much hope of fixing it.
I slammed my laptop shut and leaned back into my train seat, mentally reviewing the previous week. To put it bluntly, finals week 2018 had been absolute hell. On top of getting sick, each of my professors had thought it would be cute to assign multiple final projects. My take-home was the last of about ten different finals I turned in that week. I sat on my train overwhelmed with the realization that I finally made it to my reward, the only thing that had given me motivation throughout that terrible week: a glorious 5 ½ week long break.
In the moments before a break begins, it’s natural to think only of the good things ahead: excitement for the holidays, the ability to sleep in, seeing friends and family. Yet despite all the promise that break holds, I always find there are unexpected oddities when home for so long. So without discounting the undeniably good elements of winter recess, the following breaks down some of the confusing experiences that come along with it.
As someone who is quite close to my family, I’ll be the first to admit that family time, especially extended family time, isn’t always the most relaxing. The holidays and the fact that everyone is home together tend to mean a number of dinners or afternoon gatherings with relatives I haven’t spoken to in a year. There seems to be an inherent pressure when talking to adult relatives that want to know everything about what I’ve been up to and what I plan to do after graduation. Every conversation leads to me inevitably stumbling over my words, trying desperately to make “getting my degree” and potential interests in journalism or communications sound more interesting. My answers are usually met with a curt nod and a “Well, you have plenty of time to figure it out” or a comparison to what my older, more successful cousin has been doing.
Even with my immediate family, I find that communication can be difficult. There is a transition coming home and living in my parents’ house again. At school anything I could ever want is within walking distance. I leave my apartment when I want and roll in whenever, not needing to rely on anyone else to get where I want. In contrast, being home requires constant negotiation with my parents. There are always questions like, “Who are you going out with and for how long?” There is the negotiation about driving, whose car I get to borrow and for how long. Moreover, for the first time in months my bad decisions are being monitored. There is someone who cares enough to call me out for making “3am snacks” not cleaning my room, or not getting to the gym enough. On one hand, I appreciate all the attention, but it’s difficult to not want my independence back.
Being home brings stressors outside of family. Coming from a small community requires a certain amount of social interaction just by leaving the house. Running into town to get coffee almost certainly means running into a multitude of acquaintances. Maybe it’s the girl from high school chemistry class, or maybe it’s your brother’s middle school football coach, who knows your face well enough to want to have a full conversation. Furthermore, with different waves of friends leaving to go back to school each week, there is an insane pressure to see everyone “at least once” before they head off. Instead of catching up on abandoned Netflix shows or picking up a book to read for fun, the time left over after family obligations and a few scattered shifts at work (anything helps to try and make back the money blown through last semester) is dedicated to “one last dinner” to properly say goodbye before parting ways again.
Right now, I am quickly approaching the end of winter break 2019. Looking back on this past month I am surprised at how much unexpected activity has been crammed into a few short weeks. Although my recess hasn’t necessarily been restful, my time home has certainly felt worthwhile. Being considered a “part time member” of my family at home, I do appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with old family and friends, even if it means I head back into the semester a bit more tired than expected. The start of school means I will definitely gain aspects of my life back, such as a structured schedule and my independence. With the knowledge that as academic life picks up, my connection with home fades, I feel that 5 ½ busy weeks of catching up with my old life are worth it.