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  • Writer's pictureSarah VanderMeiden

College Transitions: Is the Honeymoon Over?

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

A beautiful fall scene with yellow, orange and red maple trees near a wrought-iron fence attached to a brick post.
Transitioning to college is an exciting yet stressful time.

Sending your son or daughter off to college can be one of the most exciting, and heart-wrenching, experiences a parent can have. Exciting in that a whole new world is opening up to your blossoming adult. Heart-wrenching in watching your child at times struggle with transitioning to this new world.

By the time classes started in September, it is likely you and your kid had been on a non-stop high ever since she or he ripped open the envelope containing their acceptance letter. The excitement continued through attending orientation, registering for classes, shopping for supplies and moving to campus.

Now it’s the beginning of October and I am just wondering…’s everybody doing? Is the college experience everything your son or daughter dreamed it would be? Or, is the honeymoon over?

Maybe your daughter didn’t get all of the classes she wanted - and the classes she has are not going well. Perhaps your son has had difficulty meeting new people. Has your future doctor just failed their first bio quiz? Maybe things are a bit too wild (or too quiet?) in the residence hall. Did the parking office run out of permits just before your kid walked through the door? Or perhaps your son or daughter is struggling with illness or fatigue.

Mom and Dad, if you have received a few troublesome phone calls from your collegian facing situations similar to these and are starting to wonder what’s going on, I want to provide some assurance that you are not alone. In fact, college students facing a few struggles early on is completely NORMAL.

College is Like a New Culture

When you think about it, going off to college is like entering a new culture, particularly if your student is attending school in another city or state. Everything is new - where they live, what they eat and who they meet. Navigating around the local area presents a new challenge, and even simple questions like where to get their hair cut or do their banking can seem daunting. The student body might be more (or less) diverse than your son or daughter is accustomed to and there also might be new norms, customs and traditions to learn. Though of course all of the “new” can be quite exciting, it also can be quite draining.

Culture Shock, College Style

The challenges, and resulting disorientation, one faces when entering a new culture is often referred to as “Culture Shock”, and culture shock is a very real thing for many college students. Culture shock begins when the novelty and excitement of going off to college wears off and is replaced with the reality of dealing with tremendous changes in living environment and social networks. Culture shock in college students is characterized by:

Homesickness: When the going gets tough, comfort may be sought from the familiarity

of family and friends at home. There might be an increased desire to maintain ties with

home through frequent visits along with displays of high school memorabilia and

photos in their living space.

Anxiety: Your student might feel very uncertain about their academic capabilities as well

as overwhelmed by the newness of everything.

Seemingly Opposing Emotions: The changes that come with attending college are still

exciting, but the hassles of completing everyday, routine tasks in this new environment

begin to cause frustration. There is a sort of push-pull between the old and new life, the

familiar with the foreign, the comfortable with the challenge.

Though this is a time of positive change, it is important to remember that it takes a tremendous amount of energy and, combined with new academic challenges, students can end up feeling uncertain, anxious and worn out.

Keep Calm and Carry On

With all of this change, there can be a temptation on the part of college students experiencing culture shock to simply throw in the towel and decide that college just isn’t for them. Though I understand the temptation, I strongly encourage students to stick it out. The fact of the matter is, the only way to get through culture shock is to get through it. This is accomplished through:

1. Taking on each challenge. Though each difficulty may not be navigated perfectly,

facing them head-on will give students the experience, skill and confidence to

successfully tackle future challenges.

2. Establishing a routine with classes and social relationships. As the semester goes

on, most students fall comfortably into the rhythm of attending class, meeting friends in

the cafeteria and studying in their favorite spot.

3. Asking for help! Students don’t need to go through this period alone. Rather, they

should seek direction and advice from professors, advisors, residence life staff, friends

and family members.

In my experience, most students survive culture shock and are thriving in college by the time mid-terms roll around. There are still difficulties, but not likely one piled upon another like earlier in the semester. And in conquering each challenge, your student is better equipped to find future success in college and in life.

However, if you are wondering if the struggles your student is experiencing are normal or if the challenges of culture shock do not seem to be resolving, feel free to contact me for a consultation.

Is your college student changing? Do you sometimes wonder if this is REALLY the kid you raised? Stay tuned to my next newsletter when I discuss developmental theories that will help you understand your student as they continue to blossom into the person they were meant to be!

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