A Unique Balance

So obviously it is the holiday season and everything. What is your favorite memory of Christmas time and the holiday season?

Let me think about it for a second. I do not know if it is a specific memory but my favorite thing about the holidays definitely has to do with my family. My family is not very religious or anything so we celebrate Christmas, but not in a particularly Christian sense. One of the things that my family always does is bake Christmas cookies. And my mom is really intense about it, not just little sugar cookies and such. She has all these fancy recipes that she makes, a lot of them are pretty intricate. There are these chocolate stars that she makes with this little white drizzle. And then there is this one with cranberries and nuts that is rolled into a swirl. They are so good. My favorite thing about the holidays is going home and making cookies with her cause she will have people over; it is really a family affair. The house just smells so good. And we do it because we give [the cookies] to other people. It is kind of our gift to family and friends. That is always our one big family holiday thing – making holiday cookies.

Is this your earliest memory that you have?

Yeah probably. There were always toys and whatnot, but what I associated with Christmas was that holiday thing. It was also decorating the tree, I guess. That was always fun. My parents were very into music when we were younger so we would always put on the Christmas music and dance around. That’s pretty typical I guess. But yeah, the cookies. One of the cookies that she makes has almond extract in them and every time I smell that, it takes me right back. You know how smell can connect with memory so well? Once I smell something like those cookies, it brings back a lot of emotions and memory of past holidays. I think that is my most powerful memory of Christmas.

How big is your family? Do you do anything else besides baking cookies?

So, my extended family lives on the West Coast, but my immediate family, which is just my Mom, my Dad, me and my sister, all live out here on the East Coast. So, Christmas is usually pretty small. It is just us, but we kind of like it that way since it is pretty low-key. I have a really good relationship with family even though it is a small unit. We don’t usually end up traveling for Christmas or the holiday season in general, it is just us with each other. We always make breakfast Christmas day, too. As you can probably tell, we are a very food-oriented family.

I guess cooking is very central to your holiday season.

Definitely, and just to our family in general. I think that we are very based around mealtime. Like, the first thing we do [on Christmas Day] is wake up and have a cup of coffee and make breakfast. My parents would like to string out the breakfast part for the longest time by making us wait before opening all the presents. There was no immediately running to presents [once we woke up]. There was an extended breakfast, and once everyone had a cup of coffee or settled down or was too anxious to wait any longer, they would allow us to open our presents. So yeah, it has always been a very small thing just with the four of us. But I love it that way.

Are you looking to bake your own cookies here for your friends?

I don’t know if cookies are my thing, but I did host a “Friends”giving for Thanksgiving. It was the first time I have ever done that, but I loved it. It was so much fun and since I have never really hosted anything before, but I went home and told my mom that she has her cookies, but this could be my thing. I think that [me and my mom] are both giving. It is always hard giving yourself a compliment like that, but I think that both my parents are very warm people. They want to include people. They truly do believe in the power of food and how it can bring people together. And that a mealtime can be shared. They place an emphasis how everybody has to eat, so why not do it together? Especially when it is good food.  So, for my mom, it was sharing cookies. But for me, it was planning a meal with my friend and forcing our friend groups into a room together with a bunch of food – even though not everyone knew each other, it ended up being such a blast. I really appreciate that my parents indirectly taught me the value of [selflessness and giving]. The holiday season is a good excuse to do things like that even though we don’t necessarily celebrate those sorts of holidays for their religious value. It is about bringing family and friends together.

Do you do anything to the outside community? Like giving food to the homeless or the needy? Or is it just within your small family?

I have before. I feel kind of embarrassed that I am not involved with anything like that here, but I definitely think that within my own relationships and social circles, that [giving food] is something I appreciate. But, I think that it would be pretty fulfilling if I were able to help the needy and reach further outside of my immediate friend group. I just have not yet explored ways to do that in Williamsburg exactly. I transferred here. I’m a senior now, but I was not here my whole college experience. 

With Friendsgiving, was it weird coming in here and wanting to share your selflessness? Having to make new friends?

Yeah so, my experience with transferring was funny in a sort of way. I went to a school where I did not have a bad experience per say, but it just was not the right place for me. I did not really fit into the community as well as I had hoped. When I transferred to William and Mary, I knew that I could appreciate the people here and what they could offer. I think I put a lot of weight on that and had a lot of expectations so when I got here, it was a little bit of a transition. That was pretty difficult, but I think that I really challenged myself to meet as many people as I could. And reach outside of myself. And now here I am, a senior, who wants to give back to everyone. Even though there were a couple hard semesters, I feel like this school and community really accepted me and gave me something that my last school could not offer. I definitely feel like I now can provide [this acceptance] to newer students. I am an Orientation Aide for Spring Orientation, which is a group of transfer students, and I do it for that specific reason of spreading acceptance and community. I know how important it was to me that this community had open arms when I was going through a lot. I want to give other people that same type of warmth and love. Of course, being a senior, I am being very sentimental about everything. There were a lot of months where I wasn’t very comfortable; it really was the people that kept me connected to this community and made it all worth it.

Are you thinking of baking cookies for your orientation group in the spring?

I think that would be so fun. I always did orientation in the fall with Freshman, and it has a different kind of sentimental value. [Spring Orientation] has a much smaller group of people. It can be really hard to change schools in the middle of the year, so I think that would be really special.

I understand what you are saying about selflessness because I love giving people stuff, and I find it hard to receive the same amount of love back whenever I need it.

I feel like I give more than I accept, which is sometimes a bit difficult. During Orientation, we take strength assessments and I always get empathy as my top trait, which I definitely consider a strength of mine. However, I believe that [empathy] can be really exhausting too because I love people, and I love getting to know them, how they work. I think being able to share emotional experiences is an important part of meaningful relationships- even though it can be really draining. As an empathetic person, you forget to take care of yourself sometimes since you are so in tune with everyone else’s emotions. I am not a saint by any means, but I do want to look out for other people. Fortunately, over the years and during my time at college, I have gotten better at [understanding my own emotional state]. When I first got here, I was really trying to make friends and find redemption in this community. It was a successful mission, but it was extremely taxing. I didn’t do as well in school as I was hoping to since I put so much effort into my relationships and social life. Everything else around me was falling down, which made it really hard to strike the right balance. It has been a learning curve. With me being a senior, I am finally starting to understand how to find a balance as far as relationships go and with dedication to both social time and my studies. I am in a really good place now where I can value my empathy and my relationships in a more meaningful and fulfilling way.

With the holiday season, it is a very sentimental time with everything coming back to you. With your freshman year, did you understand that it wasn’t the best place for you?

Definitely. What helped me understand that it wasn’t the right place for me was that I didn’t think that the community had the same values that this school does. There is such an emphasis on academic rigor [here at WM]. And in general, the tolerance and accepting nature of William and Mary is what helps me love this school. People love each other and the world around them, and really want to make a difference. The school that I previously attended did not seem to place the same emphasis on those things. I could have stayed there; there was a version of myself that could have stayed the whole four years, but that was not the version of me that I envisioned or wanted to be. As an 18-year-old, who was just thrown into being alone for the first time, I found that [transferring] was the hardest and loneliest thing that I have ever done. Trying to grapple with that emotion and making the decision that [previous college] was not the best place for me was challenging, and I really struggled my freshman year. Transferring uprooted my old life just to plant myself somewhere new, and I didn’t know if it would work out. It was a giant leap of faith. I think that this is the reason why there was a lot of unintentional pressure that I placed on myself and my transfer experience because I felt like I had a lot riding on it.

You wanted this to work out.

And it really has.

I feel like every college student [freshman, sophomore, junior, senior] always goes through the phase of putting a lot of pressure on relationships and everything. Similar to you, I went through that stage of being alone and not having my twin sister around. Come freshman year and Christmas time, I really do not remember my freshman year that well because I struggled so much. I started making a concerted effort sophomore year, yet there was a time where relationships were hard to come by.

I think that it is a very particular part of college life that every individual has to figure out. It is an amazing experience and journey, though, figuring your unique balance out, and meeting your people. It is also such a challenge. That is what college is about. One of the things that I love when working with new students, is seeing how they transform from being someone who doesn’t know who they are or what they want into a someone who is shaped by their own journey. Of course, some of those self-discovery journeys are much darker than others, and I think that if I had been more open and candid about how hard things were when we [transfers] were going through it, it might have been easier on all of us.

Yep, every single person here goes through that, yet nobody talks about it until after the fact.

Thinking that you did something wrong was the hardest part for me about transferring. My entire freshman year was me trying to understand why even though I had so much good in my life, I was still having trouble with relationships and the school and whatnot. Seeing how people portrayed themselves on social media and talking to my friends about it did not really help me. Everyone seemed like they were loving college, their new friends, and this and that and whatever, yet I was often miserable. I could not figure out what I did wrong. I was asking myself if I picked the wrong school or if I was not getting the most out of this college? I guess the previous school was just not the right fit for me. It took me a long time to understand that that is okay. Making relationships in college [and freshman year] is just messy. Everyone goes through a lot on a very intimate and personal level as well as having larger problems within the community. My college relationships here have been some of the most organically crafted and emotionally raw. Coming here was messy and difficult, yet I have found people and clicked with them immediately. College is really such a unique environment. I am okay not knowing where I will be after college, because right now I care most about my relationships and friendships, and that is all that I can really ask for.  

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