Group of college age people in winter ski gear sitting on wood fence

3 Things No One Tells You About Your First College Winter Break

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you head off for your first big break from college—just in case being back home isn't exactly a winter wonderland.

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

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

Being home for the holidays always feels exciting. Your own bed, home-cooked meals, no early classes, and—of course—your family. Granted, there are plenty of people who don’t see going home as a treat. But even if your family gets along, 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 laziness might bother her).

Don’t get me wrong; you deserve to relax and carve out time for yourself. You’ll need alone time to rest, rejuvenate, and enjoy the comforts of home without the demands of others. But also carve out time for your family. First and foremost, you are back in their home, so respect their rules, boundaries, and requests just as you did before leaving for college. If you feel potential conflict brewing, approach calmly and respectfully to ask for what you want, whether it be to skip family obligations or stay out a little later with your friends. If your family has dinner plans, do your best to be there; don’t rush out the door to meet friends when dad slaved over lasagna and homemade bread all afternoon. You’ll miss them (and dad’s lasagna) again before you know it.

Related: 3 Tips to Maintain Healthy Family Relationships in College

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

Reuniting with hometown friends over break is second only to that homemade lasagna (at least in my book). With social media, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with old friends, but there’s nothing like having a long catch up in your old stomping grounds. These friends understand you in a way new friends just don’t. There’s a shared history of inside jokes and common experiences—they understand. But just as you have been changed by your college experience thus far, so have your friends. And that’s okay. It’s totally normal for things to be a little weird between you.

Hearing about your bestie’s new besties may cause some jealousy, and they’re probably jealous hearing about yours too. You may be confused when your friend tells you about a drunken night out when the two of you were firmly against drinking in high school. Everyone has been through a crazy three months of hard, emotional, amazing adjustments, and it’s natural to have some growing pains. Don’t expect all your friends to be exactly the same, and hope that your friends don’t expect that from you. Trust your shared history but honor the ways in which your friends and you have grown in the past months. Your real friends will stick around as you all undergo changes on the college journey—only making your friendship richer in the long run.

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

Chances are you’ve had more than a few daydreams leading up to winter break about simply doing nothing, losing track of the days in a cozy blur of sweatpants. It’s the reward for a semester well done. Doing nothing at the end of a long semester is great…for a few weeks. You won’t believe me now, but when January rolls around, you’ll be yearning for a schedule and real pants. When we’re too busy, we vie for a break; when we’ve got nothing to do, we get stir-crazy.

To make the most of your break, find a healthy balance between nothing and something. Set a few goals for yourself. After a few days of catching up on sleep, make a little list of things that would make you happy to accomplish—even if that list includes a whole roster of movies to watch on Netflix. Add your movies but also include things like exploring somewhere new in your hometown or practicing a skill you’ve been neglecting all semester. Give your nothingness a time limit. Maybe sleep until noon but by 2:00 pm, put on a real outfit and go to a coffee shop to work on a writing project. Maybe save your weekends for relaxing but volunteer at the local animal shelter on weekday mornings. 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.

Related: 5 Ways to Keep Your Mental Health in Check Over the Holidays

Congrats again on a semester well done. College only comes around once, so you should make the most of it—even when you’re not there! Take the time this break to enjoy some well-earned rest but also celebrate that completed semester with your friends and family. Be present and productive over winter break. 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.

Do you need a little more than passive relaxing to de-stress this winter break? Check out our article 3 Mindful Activities to Help Students Beat the Winter Blues for some tips.

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