Everyone talks about all the ‘firsts’ that occur during the first semester of college, like the first week on your own, the first football game, the first time you get sick, and so on. But one ‘first’ that I feel is so rarely discussed is that first time going home after starting your college life. Now you might think, “What is there to talk about? It’s just going back to your family, kind of like after a long trip.” I had the same thoughts as I flew back to Arizona for winter break in 2019, which really is not that far from USC yet it felt as if I was going back to another world. Not to sound over-dramatic, but it kind of is a different world for you after all the changes and transformations you’ve undergone that first semester. By that time, I was finally feeling pretty settled at USC and beginning to see Los Angeles as my new home with a room I’d made all my own, friends to eat meals and explore downtown with, and clubs/classes to find my interests in. Most people I knew had begun to feel the same.
Once the storm of finals has subsided and you’re sitting with your overstuffed suitcase waiting for an overpriced Lyft ride to LAX (or just your family to come grab you if you’re close by), you’ll begin thinking of all the aspects of home you’ve missed and the home-cooked meals you’ll once again get to enjoy. And for me, catching up on lost time with my dog and resting on the couch with family was exactly how my first week of break went, along with a few coffee meet-ups with friends also back from school. It’s a nice feeling to have finished all your work and have nothing to do except binge a new Netflix show or eat your fill of leftovers. But as I sat on my old bed a week and a half into winter recess, looking around at my bedroom walls decorated with the posters and pictures I loved in high school, I had a strange feeling of being in ‘limbo.’ By this I mean that I felt comfortable and happy to be back home while also feeling a bit like I was meant to be somewhere else.
It was around this time during break that I started getting texts from my friends that all seemed to have a similar theme: I’m getting sick of my family and need to get out for a bit. As much as you are close with your family and say you could sit for hours doing puzzles together, there will come a point where you feel like you need some time for yourself. And after almost four months of complete independence at school, this is understandable. You’re used to doing things your way, when and where you want to do them. Leaving a used plate unwashed in your dorm for a day or two might have been alright for you and your roommate, but at home this is now a cardinal sin. This could also apply to other small things to you, such as taking too long of a shower, failing to remember a chore, or sleeping past noon. With this in mind, be patient with your family members and do your best to adapt to the expectations of living at home again, savoring the knowledge that in only half a month you’ll be back to your old way of things.
Winter break is pretty much the same timing for all college students which means hometown friend reunions are bound to happen, whether it’s a planned hangout at your old favorite lunch spot or a random meeting at the grocery store as you grab pints of ice cream at 10pm. Either way, it can be really nice to see familiar faces again and catch up on what they’ve been up to at college so far. You’ll hear some pretty funny stories of their first nights out at a frat party, interesting research plans, or tales of their 4+ major changes in the first semester alone. In return, you can share about your triumphs and growth over those starting months at USC and by the end, you’ll have seen just how much each of you has changed, almost always in a good way (though there will be some kids who haven’t quite grasped time-management yet and lament to you their less-than-consistent three hours of sleep a night). These transformations both in them and you might make your prior relationship feel a bit different- strange at first even- as you also think about all the new connections you left behind at school. A lot happens in that short fall term and you may be seeing yourself as a separate individual from who you were in high school with a slightly changed identity that this old acquaintance doesn’t quite know. In all these reconnections, don’t worry if things don’t feel the same as they did before you all left- that’s only natural in this period of transition! Continue to foster those relationships you choose to keep close while being able to move on and be happy for those from whom you drift apart.
As I write this post in my junior year while still home after this last winter break that’s been extended by online classes, I feel that my last point might be the most relevant: three or more weeks off sounds incredibly nice but you will become bored at some point. We’ve all already learned during the period of 2020 social-distancing and stay-at-home orders that there are only so
many puzzles a person can do and so much online shopping that should be done before we start to really slip into boredom. Winter break felt similar to me, though not to the same extreme. Even after wishing for nothing to do during the previous month of exam prep and final papers, I now found myself aching for the busyness of school again. All those club meetings, late night Boba tea runs in between study sessions, and the random activities that seemed to fill every minute of the day for me were becoming increasingly attractive in my mind as I sat flipping through different Netflix originals. But as you find yourself taking nap after nap each day, a sense of sluggishness starts to set in and you can begin to feel the weight of idleness and inactivity. It’s key that during this break from classes you truly provide yourself some time to recuperate and relax while also giving an element of purpose to each day. Whether that means cooking a meal for your family, cleaning out that stack of papers from high school on your desk, exercising, or working a bit on a craft or hobby, doing a little something during the day can alleviate some of those weary feelings and keep you motivated for when classes start up again. By the time you’re on that flight or car ride back to USC, you’ll be ready for another full semester to get going.
I feel it needs to be mentioned that this experience is different for each person based on where and what home is for them. For some, going home is not the same ‘treat’ that it is for others and I realize that my home experience could be far from what you as a reader would expect during your break. I hope that you are still able to enjoy your time off from classes and be around some holiday spirit and support, whatever that looks like for you. Just know that USC is waiting to welcome you back in the spring for another wonderful four months on campus.