As if the semester doesn’t go by quickly enough, October break—a whole 216 hours away from the normal routine of Vassar—has come and gone. There is something profoundly sad about the passage of time. Time’s scarce and fleeting qualities draw attention to the ways in which we choose to spend our lives. Whether we devote our breaks to kicking our feet up on the table or remain in constant motion doing all sorts of activities, scouring syllabi or job postings, going home or elsewhere, dreading our return to school or impatiently waiting for it—the answers to these kinds of questions are little fairy lights illuminating how different internal and external influences shape how we use our time.
Limited break time means we have to prioritize certain activities and allocate time accordingly. My conversations with several Vassar students indicated that they have experienced a triangle of competing break priorities: recreation, academic work and non-academic work.
On the non-academic work end of the spectrum lies Adalia Wu ’21, who spent her break at home in New Jersey. When asked what occupied her over break, Wu replied, “Real-life stuff like apps for internships, buying things, etc. I feel like at Vassar you can’t really do any of those things. You are literally living in a bubble where you don’t take care of your life and the essential stuff. School life almost feels artificial or suspended in a different time and place.”
I turned to Seung Beom Hong ’19, who for a portion of the break visited Pittsburgh with Vassar friends, and asked him whether he felt that he had relaxed over the break. Hong responded, “Yeah. I have nothing to do at school. I literally have nothing else so I have to study.” Although he is most likely a harder worker than he gives himself credit for, it seems that Hong perceives academic work as a low priority for break time.
Josh Kim ’20, who took Vassar’s shuttle to Boston and stayed there for a few days, took a more middle ground approach to his break: “I usually try to catch up on work, apply for internships, relax and do things I couldn’t do during school, like watching Korean dramas and hanging out with friends. Basically, just things that you can only do during break when you have time to do stuff.”
From these three examples, it appears that Vassar students feel the need to balance the aforementioned competing priorities. Each individual’s unique approach reveals something about them and informs their criteria for making the most of their breaks.
I also asked my interviewees how they felt about coming back to campus and whether Vassar is their second home. Again, I encountered was a wide spectrum of responses. For those who cannot go home as easily or often, including many international students like Kim, Vassar is a second home—and for many their only one in the United States.
Kim said, “When I’m in the States, I definitely feel that Vassar is my home. When I travel somewhere else and come back, I feel relieved. Like, ‘Oh, this is my home.’” Part of the reason he feels this way is because even though he cannot go home and reconnect with old relationships, he can develop new ones here: “Breaks definitely play a role in solidifying relationships. I wasn’t super close to some people— we would say hi when we bumped into each other, and that’s it. But during summer, I hung out with these people all the time. We cooked together, watched things together, hiked and biked together.”
In contrast to Kim, Hong, a fellow international, presented a drastically different definition of home and, by extension, what Vassar as a second home means to him: “To me, Vassar is the only place I can stay in the States. I don’t think I can hate it—it’s where I sleep. Also, I know a family through church that I have had Thanksgiving with. But I usually use breaks to go see friends. But when I came back from Pittsburgh, it was a nice feeling, like, ‘Finally!’”
In this sense, Wu’s experience is similar. Despite her home being New Jersey, Vassar still feels like another family to her: “Whenever I come back from a long break, I have a funny feeling in my chest, a feeling of nostalgia. It’s hard not to because I invested so much in the hominess of my dorm—on throw pillows, wall decorations, fairy lights, you name it.”
Wu’s response points to an optimistic takeaway regarding how we use time and how we feel about Vassar. By putting effort into her dorm’s decor, Wu managed to make Vassar homier. Through his effort to share experiences and strengthen relationships on campus, Kim created a strong sense of social belonging, an important function of home. Hong’s flexible attitude toward home allows him to create one wherever he goes. All in all, it seems that Vassar students have the agency to make the most out of their breaks—to use our vacation time in line with our values and to embrace Vassar as a second home.