In our last post, we discussed the culture shock that often occurs when students head to college. Some students, and their parents, may not be prepared for the roller coaster ride as students become acclimated to their new environment. Knowing that the ups and downs that students experience are normal will help everyone.
Once your student has made the transition to school and begun to feel comfortable in his new “culture” of college, both you and he may feel that the transition is complete. However, an important stage remains – returning home again. Whether the return is relatively brief – for winter break or summer vacation perhaps – or whether it is a more permanent move back home, you and your student should be prepared for potential re-entry awkwardness and difficulties. Once again, however, the process is normal. Understanding it may help.
The reverse culture shock of returning home may take your student by surprise because it is unexpected and because he doesn’t realize how much both he, and you, have changed during the transition time. This second transition process may be especially difficult because it is unexpected.
When the familiar feels strange
Your student may not expect to return home and have his home environment feel foreign. It’s especially strange and disconcerting to feel out of place in a place that also feels so familiar. Your student may have been very busy in the last few days or weeks before returning home, perhaps with exams and papers or social activities. In the midst of his excitement and anticipation about returning home, he hasn’t had time to reflect or think about potential changes. During his time away, he may also have developed a somewhat idealized view of home – remembering the good things, but minimizing negative details.
Your student returns home and perhaps settles into some old routines – but they feel different because he now has some new attitudes and habits. He hasn’t expected to feel awkward in his own home. Your student is now less independent than he was at school and needs to consider others – perhaps in terms of meal times, family activities, sharing in chores, sharing space, or respecting others’ routines. He may also begin to discover that others have moved on. His close friends have changed as well. The family may have a new dynamic. You may have adjusted to your emptier nest and have new habits that he hadn’t expected.
Your student may begin to feel frustrated or irritated. There may be more misunderstandings than anyone anticipated. He may feel bored or that he doesn’t fit in. This isn’t what coming home was supposed to feel like.
Change is the new normal
Knowing that change and adaptation is sometimes difficult will help. Remembering that transition and adjustment has normal phases will help. Expecting there to be some difficulties will help.
Be patient with your student. Be patient with yourself. Talk to your student about typical phases of adjustment and help him understand what he is feeling and why those feelings may be occurring. It is important to remember that understanding the stages of adjustment and adaptation doesn’t mean that your student will be able to skip them, but it does mean that he can see that whatever he is feeling or experiencing may be a stage – a phase that will pass. He may have some work to do, and you may also need to work through your own feelings, but you and your student will eventually find that comfort level with a new way of being together and enjoying the more confident and mature person that your student is becoming.