My Thanksgiving Survival Guide

November 21, 2017
  • Thanksgiving can be stressful—but doesn’t have to be.
  • Remember to relax, and enjoy yourself with the people who care for you.
  • Don’t overdo it, and have your support system ready if you need help.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the actual dinner, because my family tends to ask me fewer questions when their mouths are full of food.

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The author (on left) with her friend Sydney Holt. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Campeau)

The author (on left) with her friend Sydney Holt. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Campeau)

You see, when I go home for Thanksgiving I can always count on a series of questions from my relatives asking about my classes, school in general, and—if I’m in a relationship—my love life. Talking to my friends and those around me, it seems everyone experiences something like this when they go home for break.

For some people, Thanksgiving break is the first time they’re returning home since moving to East Lansing in August, and that means seeing people they have not seen in months. It could be a family member you’re nervous to see, or old high school friends you didn’t stay in touch with.

If you happen to be one of those people going home for the first time in a long time, do not fear! I spoke with a few of my fellow Spartans about how to handle various situations you might find yourself in during break—and hereby offer you this handy guide to… surviving Thanksgiving break!

Survival tip #1: Keep an open mind with your old friends!

Whether you had a great or bad experience in high school, running into old classmates or friends can be pleasant—or awkward. There is no way to predict who you will run into while at home, or what spending time with old friends will be like.

Sydney Holt, a sophomore animal science major from Algonquin, Illinois, said that it’s natural to be nervous and apprehensive about seeing people you haven’t seen in a long time—just as she was last year when she went home for the first time.

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Sydney Holt (on right) with friends from her hometown of Algonquin, Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Sydney Holt)

Sydney Holt (on right) with friends from her hometown of Algonquin, Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Sydney Holt)

“You might have some friends that you don’t necessarily want to see,” Holt said. “But you should still be open to the idea of meeting with them and catching up,” she advised. “At one point you were friends in high school, and now returning home you can share your different experiences and support each other.”

College a time when many people grow and mature, and Holt’s advice to be open to old friendships is important to keep in mind as we decide who we will be spending our time with when returning home.

Survival Tip #2: Time is limited: You don’t need to see everyone!

That said, Holt added that it is also okay if you decide that maybe you don’t want to see some of your old friends—especially because this time is limited to a few days. Trying to squeeze everyone into one short visit can end up making your break stressful, and defeat the purpose of having the time off from school.

“It’s okay to just relax during break and enjoy your time with your family,” said Holt. “They miss you when you’re at school, and treasure the time they have with you when you’re home.”

Survival Tip #3: Relax! Don’t spend your whole break stressing about school!

Thanksgiving break comes at the best time—we’re really ready for a break—yet it’s the worst time in the semester. It gives us students a little hope that our long semester break is just around the corner, but before we can even think about that, we have to take finals and deal with all of the stress that comes with them!

It’s important not to completely neglect your school work, but it’s equally as important to take a much needed break to reenergize yourself before you really have to study for finals.

Jarett Riffel, a junior from Freeland, Michigan, majoring in supply chain management, shared that he thinks that taking the time to relax and enjoy the company of your family and friends is just as beneficial to your success in school as studying and doing your homework.

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Jarett Riffel (on right) at home for the holidays with his brothers and grandmother. (Photo courtesy of Jarett Riffel)

Jarett Riffel (on right) at home for the holidays with his brothers and grandmother. (Photo courtesy of Jarett Riffel)

“Most importantly, enjoy the time with those who care about you the most,” Riffel said. “Take advantage of the few days off, because Monday will be there before you know it to get back to the stressful school grind.”

“And don’t forget to give some attention to your pets!” he added, referring to those furry stress-reducers.

Survival Tip #4: You can be yourself, be honest, and still have a good holiday!

Sometimes when you go home from break, you might be bringing some news about yourself, as well. What that news is will vary from person to person. Could be about your major, some trouble you got into, a medical or mental health issue, roommate problems—the possibilities are endless.

After all, college is time when we explore, experience new things, try on new roles—and more. A lot of change can occur in ourselves after being away from home for just three months—change that can cause us to find out more about who we are as people. But sometimes it can be hard for some of your relatives and friends to hear, no matter the news. And it’s not always easy to deliver certain news.

Most of the people with whom I spoke said that when approaching potentially difficult conversations, it is important to be as honest as you can.

“Be honest, tell the truth,” said Rick Shafer, associate director of Student Life for Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution in the Division of Student Affairs and Services at MSU. “Give your family an opportunity to trust you, and believe you.”

Sometimes, Shafer added, when telling family news you think they might not want to hear, it’s wise to do what he calls “divide and conquer”:

“Strategize with one parent on how to tell another,” Shafer explains. “For instance, telling your mom first might be better so that you can both strategize about telling your dad and other family members.” Shafer also suggested that students be willing to “lean into some of the discomfort—because it is part of the transition from being dependent to becoming independent.

Sociology major Quinn Harrison spoke of his own experience of coming out to his parents when he went home during Thanksgiving break last year.

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Quinn Harrison (left) and Samantha Oldenburg in the LBGT Resource Center at MSU. (Photo by Morris Arvoy)

Quinn Harrison (left) and Samantha Oldenburg in the LBGT Resource Center at MSU. (Photo by Morris Arvoy)

“It was weird to navigate,” said Harrison, a sophomore from Lansing, Michigan. “They had a bunch of questions, and were wondering why I changed so much just from the time I left for school. But that was definitely something I had to do.”

Harrison also said that he didn’t want that conversation with his parents to set the tone for the rest of his break. He stressed the importance of being around people who accept you for who you are, so that you don’t have to hide any aspect of yourself. This provides an outlet for any the tension that might arise after having those difficult conversations.

“You can still be yourself and have a good holiday,” Harrison noted.

Survival Tip #5: Have your support system ready!

One reason it can be hard to go home for any break is that you’re leaving your new friends and your new campus “home.” Finding people and communities at school that can help you through difficult times—or just people that you like to spend time with—is an amazing experience to have in college. This solid support system is one of the best ways to get through any challenge one might face.

Samantha Oldenburg is a senior majoring in computer science, from West Bloomfield, Michigan, who said she knows exactly how difficult going home for break can be.

Oldenburg shared that she doesn’t always like going home or seeing her family on break, because they don’t always see eye-to-eye on things.

As one powerful remedy for potentially difficult visits home, Oldenburg emphasizes the importance of keeping in touch with the people you trust at school, and asking for their help if you’re struggling with being home.

“It is also a way to give support or get support from others in the community, so you’re not alone when dealing with family or friends while at home,” Oldenburg said.

“And remember: You don’t have to tell your parents everything,” she added.

Survival Tip #6: Don’t overdo it, and I don’t just mean overeating!

Thanksgiving is a celebration, and a time to enjoy yourself. When you’re having fun, it’s very easy for decision making to get clouded and forget possible consequences.

When thinking about this, I really liked the comment Shafer made near the end of our conversation:

“If everything you do considers the intersection between yourself and others, then you’re probably going to make better decisions.”

That works for Thanksgiving break—and every other day of your life.

I hope this guide will serve as some help during your Thanksgiving break, so you can relax and have a positive time with your loved ones. Your own good judgement is an essential key to having a fun—and safe—Thanksgiving break with your loved ones.

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