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Balancing College and Family

Balancing College and Family

Student contributor, Kristen, shares her experience of merging her new life with her old.

By Kristen Lemaster

September 28, 2011

As exciting as college is, it was extremely difficult for me to leave my mother, father, older brother, younger sister, and dachshund. I had never been to camp or away from home for longer than three days, yet I was determined to go to college out of state. I searched for colleges that offered my potential majors, but mostly I looked at how far away they were from home and secretly hoarded any mail from universities in Hawaii and California. I did apply to mostly out-of-state colleges in places like North Carolina, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and yes, even California. So how did I end up in Athens, Georgia, only an hour away from home?

It turns out coming to UGA didn’t exactly mean leaving my family; it meant expanding it to include my new Bulldawg family. While going to college forces you to make new friends and live in an unfamiliar place, that doesn’t mean it can’t be like home, and it definitely doesn’t mean you’ve lost the family you already had. Instead, you get the best of both worlds, with just a little extra work on your part.

Be patient while your parents learn to let go, especially if you’re their first child to send off to college. Even if you aren’t Facebook friends with your parents, it will feel different to not interact with them on a daily basis. Moms want to know you are eating healthily and doing your laundry and staying on top of your homework. Dads want to know you are making smart decisions and thinking about your future and playing just as hard as you study. They want to stay in your life, and you should let them, but don’t be afraid to speak up and (gently) let them know if you’d like more space.

However, stay in contact! I like to text my family with little victories, like acing a Spanish quiz or scoring tickets to this weekend’s football game. Texts are also good for reminders, encouragements, and inside jokes. For bigger or more complicated things, like trying to convince them to let me study abroad next year with UGA’s awesome Costa Rica program, we e-mail every few days. E-mail is basically the modern (and cheaper) version of letter writing but still retains the sweetness of the original gesture.

Don’t go home every weekend. It may be tempting, but you’ll miss out on so much that happens on campus, whether that be football games or parties or volunteer opportunities or valuable distraction-free study time. I go home about once a month (perfect timing to restock on dorm snack food), which still leaves me with three weekends all to myself each month, but it’s incredible how quickly those get filled up when I know I’ll be on campus.

Explore your new independence. One of my favorite parts of trying something new or stepping (more like jumping, sometimes) out of my comfort zone is sharing those experiences with other people – most of all my family, since they can better appreciate the courage required of me to go somewhere by myself or try something completely different from what I would typically do. Be sure to invite others on your excursions and adventures, too; for example, the Improv Athens show was a lot more fun with girls from my dorm laughing it up with me.

Remember that it’s okay to miss home. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I don’t wake up in the morning confused as to how I got here, but I do miss the smell of bacon-bagel sandwiches on Sunday mornings or my dachshund’s barking when I come home from school. It’s normal and natural to reminisce and feel nostalgic, but whenever I start to get too sad, I make myself walk down to a dining hall and meet new people. Especially on the weekends, other people are very sympathetic, and there is just a great friendly, family atmosphere.

I’ll never forget the first time I stepped back into my bedroom after having lived in the dorms for two weeks: it was exactly how I remembered it, but emptier. I walked back downstairs and sat cross-legged in the center of our living room with my dog curled up in my lap and listened to my parents and sister talk about what had been happening in their lives while I was away.

I had come to the startling revelation that life goes on without me there. They eat at the same restaurants we used to eat at together, and my sister goes to the same high school I went to every weekday. I hadn’t realized that in order for them to let me go, I had to let them go a little, too; I had to let them have fun without me, but in return, there is so much fun for me to have here and bring back as stories. For me, finding the delicate balance between college and family has been as easy as simply (and carefully!) combining the two. Now I am lucky enough to have a secondary “home” – and about 35,000 new “family” members.

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