Beating the Winter Blues as a Sunny State Student


If you’ve already been accepted into college, you’re probably thinking, “What now?” Well, you have to complete the FAFSA, continue your schoolwork, and daydream about what your college experiences will be like while doing so. However, one facet of college life that students often overlook is the climate of the state they’ll be moving to in just a few months. I was one of those students and I wish I could’ve prepared a lot more for Connecticut’s climate during summer in Florida. Below is a list of ways you can beat the winter blues when coming from a sunny state, whether it be Florida, California, or Texas, and how to plan ahead – and what to expect – for the climate in a timely manner.
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One of my favorite sports is swimming. It’s not only because no one can see my flushed red tomato face under water, nor is it only because I can pretend I am a water bender, (though both are major factors), but rather it’s the peaceful solidarity of the sport that draws me to it. One of the things I loved to do when I was little was swim from one end of the pool to another, without taking a single breath. I love the feeling of propelling myself off the wall like a jet, and yet even when I am speeding across the pool, it still feels like I am slowly and peacefully making my way towards my final destination. But obviously, as much as I love the water, once I got to the end of the pool, I wanted nothing else but to be out of it. The pool eventually becomes all too much, too much pressure, not enough air. That’s how it felt going back home after my first semester of college, like a breath of fresh air after a long underwater journey.

It’s not to say I did not enjoy my first semester, but for the first time since spelling was still a subject in elementary school, I began to struggle academically. Usually I sped through tests, quizzes, and essays like they were nothing but water molecules to be pushed aside. Another exam was simply another lap across the swimming pool. But at Yale, I found myself out of breath a lot farther from the finish line than before. Comparing my current abilities to my previous ones, I pushed myself to commit to more late night study sessions, fewer insomnia cookie runs with friends. But now looking back at this, I realize that perhaps dunking my head back into the water and swimming at the same speed I did before was not the right solution. Perhaps it is simply that this swimming pool was a lot longer than the one at home.

Right now I am in Taipei with mom and sister, sitting in perhaps the world’s greatest invention ever: 7-Eleven. I’m not talking about the sad 7-Elevens in America, no no no. This beauty sells hot porridge, hard-boiled eggs, those cute triangle shaped rice balls, full course meals. You can even pay your bills, buy phone cards, ship packages, and buy clothes all in this little heaven on Earth. But anyways, after spending months away from my family on the other side of the country, making our small household already smaller than it needs to be, being reunited with my mom and sister, I am reminded of why I went to college in the first place. It is so we can continue to be together, to ride bicycles and crash into each other, to be obnoxious on subway rides by telling weird jokes, run in the park and play on the see-saws, hike up mountains and climb up trees to catch sunsets, to basically live in 7-Eleven and eat all day. It doesn’t matter where we are, what we are doing; as long as we are together, it is home. In a way, spending time with my loved ones is kind of like taking a breath in a middle of a long swim. Since I am so far away from home now that I am in college, I might need more of them. This way, when I go back into the water, I can swim as fast as I did before, maybe even faster.

Home is…

christina1…childhood nostalgia…

christina2…a tree climbing adventure…

christina3…a laugh fest…

christina4…a breath of fresh air.

— Christina Chen, Quest Scholar, Yale ’18

Winter Homecoming

20150103_050500Two trains, a three-hour Megabus ride, and a refreshing, reassuring rundown of fourteen subway stations later, I descended those creaky metro escalators once again with a hefty luggage behind and bundle of roses in hand. Home is still the same old basket of good eggs and rough breads—the brisk yet brewing scent of suburbia air, the grunt of buses hurrying between clamorous, convivial Washington streets ten past twelve, and the medley of exotic eateries a few dollars too expensive.
I spotted my best friend waving from the opposite platform when a smile seeped involuntarily through my cheeks. This is the ultimate boon of homecoming—reunion with ones who we walked with through our coming of age, the ones who stood beside as we weathered through triumph and disappointment, the ones who embraced us during every stage of life. Stories of the past three months percolated through the spicy Sichuan flounder and savory spring rolls—delicacies absent from the vicinity of Princeton—as we digested the past, chewed the present, and pondered what’s to come. But the dinner needed no words, the blessing of old friendships lingering in the air was enough to make us the happiest creatures of the moment.
An hour later I arrived at the doorsteps to my house. Home still had the same clutter and worn down windows as I left it. It was still a couple degrees colder than comfortable, a familiar strategy to conserve utility bills. Pa ran down from upstairs to take my bags as my stomach churned with queasiness observing that the streak of grey in his hair had grown into a patch. He then took out a fresh, sweet tangerine from the half-filled fridge as we sat by the kitchen counter and giggled about quirky professors and freshmen difficulties. I had to suppress the tears though—his genuine excitement warmed me, yet I knew he still played the same Chinese records every morning these past three months en route to delivering newspapers while I enjoyed a more-or-less privileged life.
My mom had left the door to my room wide ajar before I stumbled inside and collapsed onto my bed. It was then that I realized how much I had missed this place. Though without the luxury of Gothic windows and grandeur of Hogwartz-proportion dining halls, this room of my own sheltered me during every period of turbulence. There is a simple sincerity here, a sincerity that has motivated me throughout the past few years.
The interrogation of the tiger mother did not come until later. The latter half of break brought me to my high school, former classmates, and many teachers whose eyes lit-up at the sight of our visit.
As a friend once said, college is not only a place, but a time. There’s a time to be there and a point when we should leave. Every now and then, stepping out from the bubble and tracing our roots will give us a clearer idea of our aspirations, our values, and the person we want to be.

Jessica Li, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’18

Balancing Work and Play Over Winter Break

0102152129b (2)Winter break, the shining beacon of hope at the end of a busy and eventful Fall semester! As we revel in the home-cooked meals and comfort of our loved ones, there are often still responsibilities, task, or assignments looming at the back of our mind. If you go to a school like mine where Fall semester finals don’t take place until after winter break, you’re especially burdened with a need to study hanging on your back. This presents us with a challenge: how are we to stay productive over break?

Being productive doesn’t mean you have to throw away all plans of fun and relaxation for the break. Taking a step back from the hectic life of the past semester is a good and necessary thing. Beyond that, though, keeping in mind the things you might hope to accomplish over break will help you feel even more content with your time-off from school.

To make your break both fun and productive, I like to set reasonable goals for myself and then go about crossing them off my list. Maybe for you, there’s a book you’ve been dying to read but didn’t have time for during classes, or some material you’d like to brush up on from the past semester that you’ll need fresh in your mind for an upcoming class. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to visit your old high school to talk to students about your college experience, or volunteer somewhere for the holiday season. If you have exams coming up, as I do, you can map out the studying you have to do for each test, and spread out the work over your break. With Organic Chemistry, Neuroscience, and Evolutionary Biology exams coming up, there’s a lot of material to cover, so I like to sprinkle in a bit of studying here and there during my weeks off to prevent the bulk of my studying from piling up on me. Throughout your break, the smaller progress you’ve made here and there will add up!

Having goals in mind for the break are a way to keep your stamina going and help you feel accomplished with the time you’ve spent away from school, in addition to all the lovely relaxation you’ll have achieved. I personally like to spend a few afternoons during break at a coffee shop to study for a bit, taking only a few hours out of the day every so often. This way, I don’t miss out on much of my precious family and friend time, and still manage to get a reasonable amount of work done, (while also getting to sip on delicious coffee, yum). While it may seem like a drag to get things done over break, trust me when I say it’s a great feeling to know you got what you sought to accomplish out of the way. If anything, now when someone asks what you did over your break, you’ll have a few more things to add on to your story!

Victoria Navarro, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’17

I’m Coming Home

IMG_1916Winter break is always the time for college students to relax and regain sanity after a long and stressful semester. Especially if it is your first semester home from college, it can be a time where you will be asked a million and one questions. The top three that I always get asked are:

“Do you like it there [at your respective college]?”

“What did you do this semester, how was everything?”

And, my personal favorite:

“How were your grades?”

If it is your first break back from college you will probably respond to these questions with elaborate details and long explanations, but once you become a seasoned upperclassmen you usually sum everything up with one sentence. Interestingly enough, this semester I was abroad and you can’t come back from a lavish trip to Spain with one-worded answers, so I had to give a little more explanation to how my semester was. It was kind of like it was the first time I came home from college all over again because studying abroad is such a completely different experience.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I got back from one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and although I am still jet lagged from my 14 hours of traveling back to the United States, I do not regret my study abroad experience for anything. During my last day in Spain I experienced a lot of reflection (and tears) because Salamanca truly became not just my home but a place that has helped me become a better person. Leaving the town behind is one thing,  but I can’t even begin to express how sad it was getting on the bus to the airport and leaving my host family behind because they probably changed me the most and will always have a place in my heart–I miss them so much. From saying goodbye to all of my favorite shops and restaurants to all of my new Spanish friends, to the elementary school kids I volunteered with, to even my favorite professor at the university, it all seemed so surreal once I boarded my plane to Chicago. I became so accustomed to the Spanish lifestyle that as much as I was ready to go home, I could not fathom being back in the States.

Twenty four hours later I hopped off the plane at O’Hare airport and I was so confused because all of the signs were in English, and just yesterday I was finally starting to think in Spanish. It was definitely a bittersweet feeling being at the airport because it was starting to hit me that my Spanish experience was actually over. But things became sweeter when I saw my mom and brother after four months of being away from home. Not to mention, I could not wait to get back to my favorite American foods. My first meal back, Buffalo Wild Wings, was incredible. Sinking my teeth into those hot wings was so satisfying.

But of course I didn’t come home the same person I was when I left, and I can assure everybody that after any study abroad experience, coming home the same would be virtually impossible. The good news is that this is not a bad thing! After being back for a week now I can say that yes, there are many things I appreciate about the US, like the free water at restaurants, or that people are a bit friendlier on the streets, but there are many things that I miss and will continue to miss about Spain, like the fresh baked croissants every morning, or the siestas, or the fact that the whole family eats lunch together everyday, because I think those things are very valuable.

Overall I just feel so blessed and full of gratitude that I got the chance to go abroad even though I was so against it in the beginning because I was extremely afraid of change. I now know that change is so important, because when you have change in your life it subconsciously changes your perspective of the world and helps you see the world from a different angle. I can’t express all of the changes that I feel I have gone through, but I believe I have come back to the US more open and more appreciative. Even if you are just coming home from a regular semester at college, I think each semester changes you in different ways. I remember coming home for the first time and I was a little bit more knowledgeable; I was starting to form my own opinions on things, some that were a little different than my family’s, and I felt like I had a new perspective on the world. Your family will definitely notice how you are maturing and growing each time you come back from college and especially as a first-generation, low-income student, your family may not always understand college life and all of the things you may be going through while you are away. I suggest that when you have breaks from college you should definitely take time to rest, but also take time to reflect, because you only have the undergrad experience once, and this is the time when you really come into yourself as a a person. So as much as we don’t like answering those million and one questions, we should, because just by reflecting on our experiences aloud we are helping our families, as well as ourselves, understand the incredible changes we are going through.

P.S. You should also throw in some internship applications during winter break to stay ahead of the game!

Ashley Land, Quest Scholar, Pomona ’16