Reacclimating to home life after a semester away can be challenging — here’s how parents and teens can work together to navigate the adjustment.
The beginning of each school year can be nerve wracking for Oli students and their families. For some of our students, it’s their first time away from home. For others, it may mark the end of an incredible summer spent with loved ones. It’s normal to ask questions like, will I fit in? What if I feel homesick? What if the coursework is too challenging?
With the holidays fast approaching, Oli families must prepare for another major transition: the return home for winter vacation. Many Oli students experience incredible personal, social, and academic growth during their first semester on campus. They’ve become a part of a new culture of acceptance and self-exploration. They’ve made lifelong friends. For these students, returning home can be jarring, and may even feel like a step backwards in time.
Coming home for the holidays should be cause for celebration, but for some students, it can come as something of a culture shock. For parents, it’s important to remember that it’s a natural result of their child’s successful adjustment to a new place — it’s a good sign, not a bad one! We caught up with Julie Tracy-Prieboy, Oli’s Director of Counseling, to discuss what parents, students, and siblings can do to support each other through the transition.
A lot can happen in a semester, and it’s important for both parents and students to create conversational space for the other to share what’s unfolded over the previous few months. “It’s helpful to start from a place of curiosity,” says Tracy-Prieboy. “For parents, that may simply mean asking questions like, What did you like? What didn’t you like? What’s going well? What projects are you working on?”
That’s not to say parents should launch the Spanish inquisition the moment their child walks through the door. But a genuine curiosity about your child’s experience — the good, the bad, the unexpected — can pave the way for a constructive conversation.
That said, it’s easy for students to tune their parents’ questions out or respond with one-word answers. Tracy-Prieboy encourages students to think of specific experiences they’d like to share.
“From the student side, I’d love for them to go home and say ‘hey, I’m really proud of this,’ or ‘I’m really confused why this isn’t going well,” she says. “It’s helpful to be able to express their feelings around their experience — no matter what those feelings might be.”
Some students may be eager to tell their families about an amazing semester filled with new friendships, skills, hobbies, and hilarious anecdotes. But it’s important to remember that life at home hasn’t stopped while you were away. Tracy-Prieboy encourages students to head home with an understanding that the holidays can be a season of anxiety and even sadness for parents and relatives.
“It’s important for students to able to acknowledge that their family might be anxious or sad about any number of things — perhaps they’ve lost a loved one this year,” says Tracy-Prieboy. “And it’s ok for those things to occur, but it’s important for students to be aware, to have a level of empathy, a level of care, and a level of curiosity about those things that could be going on.”
Finally, Tracy-Prieboy encourages Oli students to bring a piece of their experience home with them. “A lot of our classes here are visually captivating — students might be doing photography or pottery or videography or creating music — and those can be really awesome opportunities for parents to say ‘Hey, show me something you’ve created.’”
Whether it’s a specimen you discovered during your independent study in geology, a short film you wrote, directed, and produced, or even just a photo album on your phone, tangible representations of your time away can help bring your family into your experience. “Involve your family in what you’ve been doing,” says Tracy-Prieboy. “There are certain classes we all have trouble discussing — humanities, for example. But focusing on those projects or specialty pieces can be a great entry point into the conversation.”