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Returning to College After a Break

There’s a strange feeling that you encounter when preparing to leave your house once again to start another semester of college. The feeling is a combination of excitement at the prospect of being your independent, free self again along with anxiety over new classes. At this point, you’ve probably been home long enough to become tired of spending so much time with your family and sick of the reinforced curfews and passing comments about how much you’ve “changed” since starting college. And somehow, despite how long the break felt, you probably didn’t have enough time to catch up with all of your friends who were maintaining completely separate lives for the past four months.

I am lucky enough that college is only a four-hour drive away from home, so in my case it wasn’t too complicated moving all of my stuff in and out of my dorm. As an added bonus, I didn’t have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for an Uber to drive me back to school from the airport. Instead, I was facing a different kind of challenge. I was worried about my family. I had spent quality time with them over the break, and then two days before I was set to return to college, tragedy struck. My mom’s father—my grandfather—passed away and left his family to deal with the river of grief burgeoning from his passing.

I didn’t want to leave home, but nothing was planned for the following weeks, and there wasn’t anything I could do to help beyond simply being there. So, because classes were starting, I returned to my empty dorm room and stayed put for the next 48 hours. I didn’t want to spend time with returning friends. In fact, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything; all I wanted was to be by myself. Eventually, this led me to wonder how my family was coping back home. From my room, I could hear people in the halls reuniting and celebrating, and felt so disconnected from the general mood of happiness.

One of my best talents is the ability to compartmentalize, which involves separating aspects of your life so they won’t overlap and interfere with one another. This is probably the reason I never got homesick my first semester of college, unlike most of my friends. When at Rice, I focused on my classes, friends, and life there. Home wasn’t forgotten, just set aside. Now, for the first time, I wasn’t able to compartmentalize. I couldn’t just think about classes that started the next day or how I needed to clean out my backpack and old journals in preparation for the new semester. I was too busy feeling distressed and upset, wishing I could do something more to support my parents and wondering when I would feel normal again.

For anybody that has gone through something similar, no matter the circumstances, I have a newfound empathy. Luckily, my university has a great support system, involving a counseling center as well as people I could talk to in my dorm. The first week back was hard, but I no longer felt miserable.

Lola is a student at Rice University, pursuing a degree in Economics. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching drama films, and eating ramen. She aspires to become a world-class traveler and one day win Survivor.
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