A person walking on campus in the snow with a large rainbow-colored umbrella

Hello, You First,

While having a break like VCU's Winter Break can be something to look forward to, dealing with friends and family can be stressful--particularly if they’ve never been to college and don’t know just what the struggle is like. Not having a home to go to can also be stressful. Below are frequently not asked questions (FnAQs) that we (the You First at VCU officers and the You First Peer Mentors) answered using our own experiences of what it’s like to go back home for breaks. We hope that you have a wonderful time off, but we also hope that our thoughts and advice help you know that you’re not alone if you are at all uneasy about leaving school.

If you’d like to talk to a mentor, email youfirst@vcu.edu.


Q: What is it like when you hang out with your old friends again? Do you feel like you or they changed some? How did you deal with that?

A: “Every holiday that I had a chance to go back home, I felt more disconnected with the people I went to high school with simply because we’re on two separate planets now. It’s not the same anymore. It’s not a bad thing because you still have your past memories together, but it means that you’re both growing on a different path. It may be that you may feel like they have changed since you last met, but in reality you’re the one who has changed. Or, it may be that you’re both maturing. Either way, if you’re not staying connected constantly throughout your college experience, then you may drift apart. And that’s okay because sometimes you have to let some people go if they’re stopping you from growing.“

“While some people keep friends from childhood, oftentimes, your college friends become your actual best friends. You may find new ones who have similar characteristics that your high school friends had, or you end up with friends who you would never expect to be friends with.”

“My friends and I have definitely changed, in good and in some bad ways. They were my girls since high school and we went in different directions. Just because we might not be doing the same things any more doesn't mean I'm going to stop being friends with them. We typically go out for dinner at least once when we are all home to catch up and just spend some time together. I understand that in different environments you can pick up new habits and hobbies so if they are ever doing something that I don't like I just say I'll catch them next time and won't participate in what they are doing.”


Q: What is it like when family members ask about grades?

A: “If you don’t want to get into too much detail, you could say that your grades are fine/okay and then change the subject to something positive that you want to talk about, like joining clubs, homecoming week, or taking part in activities around Richmond.”

“If you want to be straight up with someone who you trust will not be too judgmental, you could own up to the struggles and mistakes that you’ve encountered and how you will improve upon them. Being first-gen, families hold high expectations for you, so there can be a lot of pressure to meet those expectations and make them proud. When you do feel that pressure, think about how much in the future you’ll benefit in the long run. When you go home and have moments of feeling unworthy, remind yourself that you are worthy. Think about your past and what you’ve had to overcome to get there and the obstacles that you’ve already surpassed. This is just a step to reach your dreams. These rough steps will make your future challenges easier.”

“No one else but you understands what you are going through, and feeling disappointed in yourself because of what a family member might say is not worth it. You're back home to spend time with your family and have a break off of school and although they are curious about how it is going for you, I just try to keep it short.”


Q: What is it like dealing with house rules, chores, etc.?

A: “Sometimes parents do give you more freedom now that you’re in college, but you also have to respect the fact that they will always worry about you no matter how old you are. It’s because you’re something special to them. “

“It really differs on the family. When I come back occasionally, they don’t make me do as much as they used to, but you should do as much as you can to help out. I have just as many chores--sometimes my parents will wake me up and tell me that I forgot to wash the dishes the night before. But I appreciate them making me do the chores because it has made me cleaner in college--I actually do dishes and enjoy cleaning. Overall, realize that when you went to college, that was a void in your family’s life. Help out as if you never left because this is their house and it will help maintain a positive vibe. It also shows them that they’ve taught you well and will impress them. Plus, in a few days you’ll be back at school. If it really is an uncomfortable situation at home, do your best to push through and find support with your friends.”

“Please understand that being back at home is not the same as being completely on your own when you are at school. While you might gain a little more freedom since being away, you still have to respect the house rules. If I do decide to go out at night, I always make sure that I am back at home at the time my parents tell me to be. Yeah, it may not be what you want to do but you are only home for a short period of time and it is a small sacrifice you can make to ensure that things run smoothly with your family at home.”


Q: Did you catch yourself saying "home" when talking about going back to school? What was that like?

A: “It’s a natural thing to do that. Whenever you’ve been in a place for a period of time you start calling it home. A lot of people have the same definition of "home," and for me it’s where I feel safe. When my friends ask me why I call college home I hit them up with that definition.”


Q: How do you feel speaking to your friends and family when you go back home?

A: “I have to catch myself speaking ‘college,’ meaning that my vocabulary and my ideas/opinions are expanding. In terms of opinions, I don’t want my friends and family to feel like I think they’re uneducated and I don’t want to be disrespectful. But my views have been challenged and that’s caused me to become more open minded. I want them to be more open minded as well and not stuck in their own ways, but at the same time you’ve got to be respectful and realize they’re your family and not going to change--yet.”

“When I go back home I speak Spanish with my parents, and my parents say that I’m forgetting it because I’m not forced to speak it in college. They say I forget to pronounce certain words because I’m not using them. I’ve picked up new words that I use in my English vocabulary and my brother sometimes asks, ‘What?’ Then I know I need to rephrase it for him.”


Q: Did you have family members question your choice in major and how that relates to a job where you can make money? What about talking about changing your major?

A: “The concept of money wasn’t an important topic. It was more about going for what you want to do. In questioning my major change, they asked why I switched. I told them that I decided the old major wasn’t what I wanted to do and this one fits my desires and preferences.”

“I’m indecisive on some things in life, but I know what I’m passionate about. My parents know why I changed my major but they question me as to where I see myself in the future with it. They want to know how my passions will translate to my future. My grandparents also ask me what I’m going to do in a few years. For me, I’m choosing my major based on knowing myself and knowing what my passions are. In my opinion, the undergraduate degree is about exploring interests. Many people don’t have careers in their majors. These classes are opening my eyes to possibilities far beyond specific careers.”

“At first I was afraid of telling my parents that I was changing majors, but remembered that my parents are supportive of me. They want to make sure that I have a secure job after graduation. Realizing that made me feel more comfortable in knowing that I could change my major--I just needed to have a concrete plan.”


Q: What about independent students? What should I expect?

A: “As someone who has been an independent student since beginning college nearly four years ago, I can say from experience that holidays can often be challenging. If you are still searching for a place to stay over winter break, try seeking out roommates, friends (both old and new), high school teachers, people from a church you may attend, etc.

I spent my first two Thanksgivings and Christmases with a teacher from high school who knew about my situation and wanted to make sure I had a roof over my head. Asking for help may be hard, but it is easier than spending the holidays without a safe place to stay. Don’t feel like an intruder! Most people are happy to host you -- as long as you’re courteous, of course!

The most important advice I can give you is to remember why you’re at college. You are here to get a degree and open your life to more options than your family had. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have in this moment, imagine what you will have one day. It will be worth it.”


Contributors: Papa Beye, Patrice Branch, Amber Brown, Alexis Coulibaly, Amaya Doswell, Cristyn Henriquez, Azeem Holland, Adriane Manigo, Bruce Martinez, Xuela Robinson, Keishawna Rowe