What They Don't Tell You About Your First Winter Break From College

Here are a few things to remember as you head home for your first big college break--just in case it isn't exactly a winter wonderland.

Congratulations, you reached the finish line! Okay, well, you reached a finish line.

You made it through your first semester of college (relatively) unscathed. Pat yourself on the back for the all-nighters and 10-page papers, the four-hour labs and endless stacks of notecards. For successfully navigating communal bathrooms and new friendships and expanding educational horizons. And hopefully having a little fun too. Now it’s time to head home for winter break. So you grab yourself one last free dining hall coffee, ready for some hard-earned rest…

But wait.

Just like your first semester of college may not have gone exactly like you expected, returning home can be trickier than people might tell you.

Here are a few things to remember as you head home for your first big college break—just in case it isn’t exactly a winter wonderland.

1. Seeing your family will be awesome…but you will also get sick of them

Being home for the holidays always feels so exciting. Your own bed, home-cooked meals, no early classes, and no books to read unless you actually want to (and who doesn’t love revisiting Harry Potter?). And, of course, your family.

Granted, everyone’s family is different, and there are plenty of people who don’t see going home as a treat in the first place. But even if your family is super close, being back in their orbit after months of unadulterated independence is hard. By week three, your mom’s constant questions will grate on you—just like your fourth straight day of Netflix binging will bother her.

This is okay. First and foremost, do your best to respect their wishes—you are in their home, and more likely than not, they are the reason you’re able to go to college at all. Eating gummy worms for breakfast and staying out ’til 3:00 every night may feel perfectly reasonable to you, but your parents aren’t required to agree just because you are now a college-attending-grownup.

If you feel a potential conflict brewing, remember to approach with asking, not telling: Calmly and respectfully ask to stay out later; don’t just take the car and stumble home in the early morning. Ask if your family has dinner plans in advance, and do your best to be there or reschedule ahead of time; don’t rush out the door to meet friends when dad slaved over a lasagna and homemade bread all afternoon.

You should also carve out time for yourself. You will need alone time to rest, rejuvenate, and enjoy all the comforts of home without the demands of others. But also carve out time for your family. You’ll miss them (and dad’s lasagna) again before you know it.

2. Seeing your old friends will be amazing…but it will also be weird

Reuniting with hometown friends over winter break is second only to homemade lasagna, in my book. Granted, with Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook, and FaceTime, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with your friends while away at school—but there’s nothing like having a long, laugh-filled catch up in your old stomping grounds.

Old friends understand you in a way new friends just can’t (yet). There’s a shared history of inside jokes and common experiences, someone to trade war stories with, someone who is as excited to visit your favorite hometown diner as you, someone who understands.

When you know and love someone as long as you’ve known and loved your best friends from home, it’s hard to imagine it would ever be awkward to see them. But just as you have been changed by your college experience thus far, so have your friends.

This is okay. It’s totally normal to be a little jealous hearing about your bestie’s new besties. They’re probably jealous of yours too. Or your confusion is understandable when your friend tells a tale of a crazy, drunken night out—when the two of you were firmly against drinking in high school, and you’ve stayed that way. You’ve all been through a crazy three months of hard, emotional, stressful, awesome adjustments, and it’s natural to have some growing pains. Things won’t necessarily be the same, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still be great.

Be patient. Trust your shared history, but honor the ways in which your friends—and you!—have grown. As you continue on, there may be people who you don’t connect with anymore, and that’s okay too. The real friends, the ones who are meant to stick around, will stay the same people at heart. And the changes you undergo on this college journey will only make your friendship richer in the long run.

3. Having free time will be incredible…but you will also get bored

Chances are you’ve had more than a few daydreams leading up to winter break about simply doing nothing. Your couch calls to you—and, oh, how you answer. You lose track of the days in a blur of cozy sweatpants and romantic comedies. It is the reward for a semester well done and the dangling carrot that kept you going through those excruciating last few weeks. So get home and do nothing. BECAUSE DOING NOTHING IS GREAT.

…for a few weeks. You won’t believe me now, but I swear, when January rolls around, there will be a horrified part of you that is yearning for a schedule and real pants. “But how can I feel this way when all I’ve wanted is a break?!” you howl. “And all I’ll want again in a few months is another one?!” It’s the paradox of college—and life, honestly.

The best advice I can give to make the most of it is to find a healthy balance between nothing and something. Set a few goals for your winter break. That’s probably the last thing you want to do when you arrive home, but after the first few days of catching up on sleep, make a little list of things that would make you happy to accomplish. It’s fine if that list includes a whole roster of movies to watch on Netflix—but also include some things in your hometown you’d like to explore, or a skill you’ve always wanted to learn but never had time to.

Give your nothingness a time limit. Maybe you sleep ’til noon, but by 2:00 pm, put on a real outfit and learn a new recipe. Maybe your weekends are for relaxing, but you volunteer at the local animal shelter on weekday mornings. Maybe you binge-watch a new series for a few hours, but then try your hand at writing a script yourself! College is a time of exploration, and it shouldn’t stop when you go home for winter break. You’ll enjoy your free time more and maybe even return to school with a new passion. At the very least, you’ll want something more interesting to share with your college friends when they ask about your winter break than “nothing.”

Congrats again on a semester well done and a happy, happy holiday break to you. College only comes around once—make the most of it, even when you’re not there!

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