Fresh Perspective | Fall break anxieties

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical college experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Senior Staff Writer

It was the 13th of October, and I had just finished my two classes for the day as I walked home with an iced pumpkin spice latte from Dunkin’. I got home, loaded my and my roommates’ luggage in my red Honda Civic and prepared for the four-and-a-half hour drive across the state.

My two friends and I drove through 310 miles of valleys lined with red and orange leaves while blaring Taylor Swift’s whole discography until we saw our holy grail, the turnpike exit to Philadelphia. Finally, we have reached the weekend we’ve been anticipating for the past seven weeks — fall break.

With how overwhelming and busy the two weeks leading up to fall break were, I couldn’t be more excited and ready to go home. For five whole days, I saw my friends and family, watched my brother’s high school football game, cuddled with my dog and did absolutely nothing related to school.

Calling it “relaxing and refreshing” is an understatement when I reflect on my fall break. After long work days, midterm exams and an endless amount of assignments, I was finally able to let myself rest when I went home. The sense of relief I felt when pulling into my driveway, seeing my dogs and sleeping in my childhood bedroom was immeasurable. I finally felt like I could stop thinking and worrying about school for a couple of days. I felt relieved and safe.

Waking up on Monday morning, the day of my drive back to campus, was not fun. I packed up all the clothes I didn’t even wear as my dad made sure I came back to school with an abundant amount of food to hold me over for the next couple of weeks. I said my goodbyes to my family and dogs, and just like that, I was back on the road.

Normally when I drive back to campus I get filled with excitement, but this time I experienced something else.

The same anxiety that I thought was gone over the weekend came rushing back like it never left. Thoughts of going back to classes, never-ending assignments, work and being on my own again brought me back to the same feeling I felt when my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm.

I walked into my off-campus house, feeling off and anxious. I just wanted to teleport back to my childhood bedroom. I didn’t feel like myself. I realized I felt like this because when I come back to school, I come back to expectations.

There is the expectation to go to class and tackle my long to-do list of assignments, the expectation of being a good roommate and doing chores around the house and the expectation to be the social butterfly I am at school. At home, I don’t feel judged for not meeting any expectations. I feel safe hiding away in my room when I don’t have a social battery and I forget about most of my worries when I am on my couch with my dogs. Leaving my safe space is not easy to do every time I have to come back to school.

It feels like an identity crisis. I act and feel so differently at home than I do at school. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have grown immensely and created lifelong friendships and memories here at school that I will always be grateful for. Feeling anxious about returning to campus doesn’t mean that I chose the wrong school or that I hate it here. I think it just means that I know I have to meet expectations here at school, and that stresses me out.

I know I am not the only one who experiences this imposter syndrome. Everyone gets homesick and misses who they are when they are away from school — it is normal to feel like that. There are ways to combat this feeling, or at least try to understand it. If you ever feel like this, try journaling to write down how you are feeling so you can start to figure out the why. Or just take some time to settle back into your lifestyle and routine at school, whether that means distracting yourself with your routine to keep you busy or taking a weekend to just relax and chill at home.

I am lucky that I am only 4.5 hours away from home and I can take a weekend trip back if I absolutely want to. There are some out-of-state and international students who don’t have that luxury. But also remember that going home all the time won’t solve any of your problems. I remember during my first year my mom told me to not come home for six weeks. Not because she didn’t want to see me, but because she knows me and she knows that if I came home early in my first semester, I wouldn’t want to go back to campus where I felt out of my comfort zone. I remember calling my best friend in tears over how I just wanted to come home and she told me to just give it time. Thankfully, I took their advice and stayed on campus for the majority of the fall semester. That is where I got close with my friends, started writing for The Pitt News and got a good grasp of college life.

It is okay to be homesick and anxious when you are at school — it is a normal and universal experience every college student goes through. If you tell yourself to just make it a couple of more weeks, you will be surprised how fast time flies.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and college experiences. You can reach her at [email protected]