The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Dear Aunt T: Home for the holidays


This semester really has flown by hasn’t it? The clock is running down now!

For some, going home to rest and rejuvenate for this long, much needed break is the best medicine. To see family and friends and maybe have a home cooked meal you haven’t had in months (and maybe help getting caught up on all that laundry) feels like the most cherished gift of all.

But there are some, particularly those freshmen that are new to this volley, going home for the holidays is uncharted territory and filled with a myriad of emotions and more questions than answers.

What’s changed? What’s the same? And what if home just doesn’t feel like home anymore?

During my first winter break, I was beyond excited to get home. I packed my bags and was ready to go and I was leaving on a jet plane (it’s a John Denver song; I’m painting a picture here, work with me).

That first couple of weeks were pretty close to what I’d expected: holiday bustle, family-time, friends, food. But that second couple of weeks…that’s when the energy really shifted.

While my parents’ home didn’t change much—my room wasn’t transformed into a study or sauna. Yet, the general daily routines I was accustomed to growing up were much the same, post-New Year, this weird feeling started to stir and swell in my stomach.

Home didn’t feel like my home any more. It felt like my parents’ and I was a foreign visitor. Whether we recognize it or not, we change a lot during that first semester.

Our relationships, friend circles, interests and sometimes even our belief systems make a 180. Growing up our parents have spent a great deal of time and energy knowing our every move and influencing if not outright making our decisions.

University is where we get to know ourselves by ourselves. Be gone parental dictatorships, curfews, and dietary restrictions! This is our time to really try new things and new versions of ourselves we might not otherwise in the presence of our families.

When we go home that first time, we start to see a difference in ourselves, our families, and our deeper understanding as well as perceptions of both.

One of the things I noticed right off the bat was how limiting my conversations with my parents had become. In high school, after school rattling off about my day, friends, and classes was an easy 30-min debriefing.

However, now, my parents found my new schedule—8 a.m. class,10 a.m. nap, noon, lunch, 1 p.m. class—odd, they didn’t know any of my friends, and the classes I was taking were almost as foreign as my new taste in music and art.

In other words, they didn’t know me anymore and I really didn’t haven’t the energy to get them up to speed.

Another thing that stuck out was how little they altered their schedules to my time home. After the holidays my parents were back at work as if my month long winter break didn’t count or wasn’t important enough to warrant a vacation.

Days at a time I’d find myself pacing the house looking for something to do (this was pre-cell phones and dial-up internet, bear with me). My
dorm friends were time zones away, and some of my high school friends were either too busy or we’d lost touch.

Home as I knew it now was boring, my parents’ fashion taste was dated, and despite the endless supply of food and easy access to a kitchen and washing my laundry for free, for the first time in my existence I wanted to be back in school more than I wanted to be on break.

I’ve thought a lot about this period in my life this past semester. Almost daily many of my mostly 11th and 12th grade students ask me dozens of questions about what college was like and any tips or words of wisdom.

They know I’m in graduate school now so when they start whining about their essays or upcoming projects I show them my syllabi and they quickly zip it.

I tell them the truth about what I remember about my college years. Technology wise there are a lot of differences between then and now, but generally speaking, there are a lot of similarities.

Emotions and relationships evolve the most over a lifetime and they take decades to cultivate and can sometimes take only moments to demolish.

This past year I’ve made a point to talk to some undergrads to see what they’ve noticed about returning home for the first time and/or the
dynamics of their relationships with their family in the process.

Interestingly enough, they’re responses and experiences have been very similar to mine. “It’s just…weird,” several have said, echoing my sentiment with an equally awkward feeling as they say it.

Going home for the holidays isn’t at all what Hallmark or Hollywood presents. It’s strange and sometimes lonely and generally out of place as we navigate our journeys outside the nest these first years.

The good thing about winter break is that half of it is dedicated to holidays, and half of it is a combination of sleeping and reflection so the discomfort only lasts a couple of weeks even though it may certainly feel like an eternity.

What’s most important through this homeward bound visit is that the change you see and feel is normal. Your parents haven’t replaced or forgotten about you. You’re not a freak for feeling like you’ve outgrown their house.

And it’s okay to secretly count down the days till you can get back to campus so you can start living your life again.

Only difference? When spring semester begins, you’ll likely be more grateful of your college crew, more sure of yourself and your ambitions, and more ready to hit the books (okay, maybe that last one’s just a me thing).

Tera Johnson-Swartz can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812. 

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