by Antonio Junior-Robins
Everyone back home thinks I’m a know-it-all and pretentious because I’m in college.
What will I talk to my family about?
Maybe they will ask me how school is going, and I will try to help them understand college life.
Will they ask me for money or to take the family out to eat?
Maybe I’m fulfilling my family’s dreams?
Will my family and friends think that I make big bucks from my internship, part-time job, or work-study?
When going back home for the holidays as a college student, these thoughts may run across your mind, especially when it comes to feeling a bit of anxiety about the conversations you’ll have with friends and loved ones. For students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds, thoughts like these can seem extremely alienating and distance you from those you grew up with. Am I the only one who thinks this way? The answer is you are not alone!
This article is about three things that first generation college students can struggle with when they go home for the holidays: friends, family, and money. Within this blog post, I’ll talk about what students can expect when returning home from school during holiday breaks. I’ll also provide some advice about interactions with friends and family back home, as well as managing money.
Going back home for the holidays will likely feel different. Friendships may change and people may treat you differently now that you are in college. Being in college and another city does not always alter relationships with friends, but it is not uncommon. Sometimes you may have to make some sacrifices and re-evaluate your circle of friends. There’s actually a name for the severing of relationships when you go back home and realize things are not the same. It’s called the “turkey drop” or “turkey dump.” Although it’s most often used to describe a college freshman who goes home for the holidays and breaks up with a significant other from high school, it can also happen with platonic friendships.
Three tips for making the most of your time with friends at home:
Use social media to look up friends from high school or your childhood. They’re likely home for the holidays, too. Call or text them to see if they want to hang out; meet at a place you hung out at together when you were in high school. Reminisce about shared memories, talk about what you’re each doing in college and your hopes for the future.
As you get older and experience new life milestones, your ideas and appearance change. Similarly, your friends from high school or your childhood may look different to you and you may not have much in common with them anymore. Yet, friendships morph and grow into new types of relationships. You can still learn something from them, and vice versa.
You may spend a chunk of your vacation time hanging out with high school friends, and eating out at restaurants to get away from “cafeteria food.” The costs of hanging out and eating meals can be expensive, especially if you are the one who is expected to pay for everything. Make sure to split the bill or ask if your friend can come over your parents’ to eat or hang out, and vice versa. It's not necessary to go out, but going to the park or somewhere free is always an option to catch up.
The first couple years of college are life changing, independence-building, schedule-adjusting, self-finding adventures. This means the first time back home for the holidays – whether it be for Fall break, Thanksgiving, or Winter break - can be a culture shock for you and your parents. Home situations may have changed, and you may walk right into turmoil and chaos. Some of these changes can be parental divorce, financial problems, room changes, and family moves. Being away at college, you are oblivious to the things that have happened at home due to a busy schedule and less time to talk with family. Further, your parents may still expect you to stick to the curfew that you had in high school, especially if you’re a freshman.
Three tips for making the most of your time with family at home:
In college, you might have grown accustomed to using colorful language, walking around in your undergarments, and practicing less than acceptable hygiene and tidiness. Now that you’re home for break, you have to be mindful of the company you’re in. Parents and younger siblings might not appreciate your cursing and inability to clean up after yourself. Also, be cautious of the college stories that you tell your parents and siblings.
Going home for the holidays can be meditative, and allow you to get the much needed rest and personal connection that you need. If you need a hug and just some quality time with loved ones and family, definitely use the break to fill your cup. College can be stressful, and we all need to vent our frustrations in order to come back from break refreshed and motivated to finish strong.
You have become quite independent while away at college, but your parents may still see you as their little boy or girl. Your idea of being an independent adult may clash with your parents’ unwillingness to let go and they might try to put you back in the role of child. If this occurs, try to have a calm conversation with your parents, where you logically explain that you’re growing into your own person and it’s time to make your own decisions.
I remember when I came home for Winter break in sophomore year, my parents asked me for $1,000 since their medical bills had skyrocketed and they were in a financial bind. Although I had saved some money from my work-study job and financial aid refund, this money was meant to go towards my education, rent, and other college costs. It was difficult having this conversation with my family, but it needed to happen. We came to a compromise and worked out a plan for them to pay me back, because this is the type of relationship we have – give and take. You may feel obligated to offer money to loved ones, especially someone who is close to you, but you have to set boundaries.
Three tips for navigating money issues during your time at home:
No matter who it is, never feel obligated to give someone money when they are in need. The feeling of obligation can harbor resentment and gives the other person control over your finances, and you. If you do not have the money to give or need the money for something else, let the person asking know this upfront. Do not beat around the bush. And if they continue to pester you, this just shows how much they do not care about what you have to do in order to succeed in college.
Growing up, my family did not talk much about money or financial problems since I was a child and my mom did not want to stress me out. Now that you are older and growing up, it is important to have discussions around money and college costs. For your sanity, talk to your family about budgeting, debt, and how you can work together to make college more affordable. Once they realize that you have a plan, they might be more open to helping out by sending care packages and small gifts.
Find seasonal jobs; use money or gifts from the holidays to help you save; ask for help and don’t be afraid to borrow money from a friend or family member; and/or sell unwanted items on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, etc. Be creative and take the initiative; there’s almost always a way to work around financial issues. Steer clear of credit cards; it’s real easy to swipe to purchase items that you need, but debt can accumulate fast. If you’re really in a bind, make an appointment to talk with someone at your school’s financial aid office.
University of Michigan, 2013