Surviving student homecoming

Surviving student homecoming
Madison Duddy hears a chaplain’s advice to students returning home from college


When every academic year comes to a close, students are forced to pack their things, leaving a life of freedom as they head for their hometowns. After the initial enjoyment of free food and clean laundry wears off, college students realise they have only been home for two days and want to go back to the ‘good life’ at college.

It’s pretty safe to say that there are more than a few college scholars who would give up a homework-free summer if it meant they could be back at school with their friends, eating what they want, coming and going as they please and laying in their bed for hours watching Netflix without their parents nagging them, insisting they get a job or do something ‘productive’ with their day.

Unfortunately, the luxury of staying in the city for the summer is not a possibility for most students. With Ireland’s growing housing crisis causing rents to skyrocket, the average college student cannot afford to live anywhere but home. According to the Department of Housing, housing supply will not exceed demand until 2023. After letting the reality of a homebound summer sink in, students need to know how to combat the challenges that await them at home.

At Dublin City University, chaplain Fr Paul Hampson says he helps parents and students confront the inevitable difficulties of transitioning from school to home life.

“Well, obviously, the years in college will change them [the students]. For the most part, I find with students that we work with here, there is this great sense of perspective now, and that’s not to say they’re perfect, but they will integrate sort of home life and life here. Obviously here life changes, they become more independent, I suppose they socialise more, but I could imagine in some families there may be some sort of tension with that,” Fr Hampson says.

Even though a lot of students go home periodically throughout the school year for breaks like reading week, Christmas or Easter, the long summer breaks can result in many students finding it difficult to face the pressures of being home and communicating with their parents as newly independent adults.

“For the summer, the big thing is the pressure on students to work at a job and make money. I often kind of hope that they switch off and get some sort of relaxation, but I think the big pressure would be to earn money to sustain themselves for the rest of the year if they haven’t got a job right through the year as well,” Fr Hampson says.

For students that face conflicts with their families, Fr Hampson said good dialogue is crucial.

“If parents came to me and said ‘we’re having a problem with our daughter or son’, I’d always say to them before I can ask a question, they need to make a statement,” Fr Hampson says. “As long as it hasn’t reached a stage of negative conflict where they’re screaming at each other and they’ve left it too long, I’d always encourage students going home to lay it on the table and just say ‘listen, there are changes, there are transitions’. I would be very positive about encouraging that kind of interaction.”

Despite always offering support to parents and students, Fr Hampson notes that he would never get in the middle of a conflict between parents and their children, and sometimes, if the issues are severe, he would suggest the family bring in professional help.

“A couple of times, students have come along and when they’ve been chatting through any aspect of home life or whatever, my thing is I would never feel that we have the right to usurp the parents place, but I would always try to tell them to go back in and make a statement,” Fr Hampson says. “If it had reached stages where there is great conflict, though, I think I might say ‘you might need other help, more professional advice than mine’, but I think that would be sort of an extreme situation.”

He stresses that parents and students have time to prepare for the home life to college life transition, and not only the students can see they are growing up.

“I always think that if parents are going to send their children to college, they’ve already got a sense, beginning with the Leaving Cert, in our situation, the Irish situation, they’ve already got a sense whereby there is a huge transition.

“In university here, we can’t give out information to parents about a student who is over 18 years of age. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be pastoral support, but you’d be encouraging students and parents all the time to be interacting, and for the most part, there is a very positive attitude with students and parents,” he continues.

In addition, the open days at university offer information and support for parents so they can understand how to deal with the transition.

“Now there will be parents and students who find the transition a little more difficult, students who want to leave home, wanting to support the parents. I would encourage that,” Fr Hampson says. “And then there are parents who find it difficult, the empty nesters, but with our open days and contact with us, certainly we’d be very encouraging. But I find that the transition with parents working with students after Leaving Cert, they’re already involved with the transition and realise that their son or daughter are adults now. I’m not saying there isn’t some conflict. There are some families that experience this negativity and it goes along, but for the most part, I believe that the parents being involved in the transition gives them the idea to start letting go.”

Fr Hampson says first ‘emotional intelligence’ kicks in for most students and they learn to adjust to their new lifestyle.”

Because first year college students are forced to leave the comfort of their hometowns and families and live alone at university, they grow and change. This can make coming back to home life with friends from secondary school a challenge. Fr Hampson says first “emotional intelligence” kicks in for most students and they learn to adjust to their new lifestyle.

“What they say is you get this spirit of understanding and saying ‘okay, I have to be here, I have to work with this, I will make new friends. And life will be different, but you move on’. I have some friends from high school and secondary school, but most of my friends are college friends. And it comes from the fact that it’s the first adult decision about friendship, not an accident of school or neighbour,” the Chaplain says.

While the transition to moving home for the summer can be difficult for students, Fr Hampson said he believes most find some comfort in going home.”

“I think when you’re out there and you choose who you socialise with, the bonds are stronger. I do believe there is a change. Naturally, there is a change from leaving Secondary School and leaving your community. It’s a huge transition and I certainly wouldn’t take this lightly and say ‘you’re fine, you’re fine’. I’d always try to help people negotiate the transition, and if there’s a struggle, say ‘listen, face the struggle and if it becomes a deeper struggle, obviously, then it moves into another realm beyond my pastoral care, but my pastoral support would still exist’. But I find that yet students at the end of the first year they go back and when they go back to recognition is things have changed and that’s natural. That’s healthy.”

While the transition to moving home for the summer can be difficult for students, Fr Hampson believes most find some comfort in going home.

“When children visit home again, I found again that for most of our students that will be going home and looking for a job, they’d be glad to be home for a while… going back to what they identify strongly with. For a whole lot of students, home is still a source of strength. It’s not a source of conflict.”