A freshman from Bloomington took to Twitter early this week with an astonishing self-revelation.
Only four days into winter break, she wrote: “I can’t wait to go back to the U!”
For college students, the long-awaited Christmas vacation can stir up unexpected emotions, experts say. When they’re finally back home, they may discover they’re suddenly homesick for school.
At the University of Minnesota, advisers have created a special tip sheet for parents to help them survive winter break. It’s a little like their tip sheet for surviving Thanksgiving, which comes with its own set of stresses. But because it’s a lot longer, winter vacation may hold some surprises.
“The first few days of break, parents worry because their student is sleeping so much,” says the U’s parent advice page, “Holiday Suggestions for Parents of College Students.”
In some ways, the U’s advisers say, excessive sleepiness is only natural as students recover from the tension of final exams. But it can also be a coping mechanism as they struggle to fit back into old routines.
Sometimes, the transition can be more challenging than expected. “They will wander into the kitchen, have something to eat, and then be at a loss as to how to relate to the family,” the tip sheet says. “A nap provides an escape … .”
At some point, college students often start to feel estranged from some of their old friends, which can be unsettling in itself, said Marjorie Savage, the U’s parent program director. “There’s a realization that the friends they had in high school just don’t quite match up,” she said. “By second year, their real friends tend to be their friends from [college].” As a result, the holiday reunions they once looked forward to can feel like a letdown. “They realize they have more in common with college friends, and this can bring on feelings of loneliness and separation,” the tipsheet says.
In any case, after a few weeks home, it’s common for students to get restless and bored. “I think the length of the holiday break can be amazing to students and to parents both,” Savage said. Some schools, like the U, have a month off before the start of the next semester.
That’s one reason the tipsheet suggests scheduling some events toward the end of the break, rather than piling them on at the beginning. “A day of skiing or a weekend at Grandma’s will be better appreciated in mid-January than between Christmas and New Year’s.”
This time of year also can be a chance for some heart-to-heart talks about how school is going — especially if it’s not going well, Savage says.
“For students who didn’t do well during the semester, it can be a really, really depressing time,” she said of the holidays. “They don’t always know how to tell their parents.”
If they haven’t volunteered the news, she said, “it’s good for families to ask to see the grades, [and] to expect that there could be some challenges.”
It can be hard to admit that they’re not living up to their own, or their parents’, expectations. But parents, in turn, can help students put one semester’s struggles in perspective, she said. “If they didn’t get the best grades in the world,” she said, “let them know they still have another chance.”