Life of a First-Year Intern: Communicating with My Family


By: Casey Tissue, Trinity Class of 2016

As a second semester freshman here at Duke, I’m working with the Parent and Family Programs to help reach out to the families of Duke students.  As part of this internship, I’m writing blogs to share my first year experiences.  I’ve recently written about orientation week, academics, and stress management. This week I am writing about the ways I communicate and keep in touch with my family back home.

When I shared the news that I would be attending Duke University, my family was almost as excited as I was about the many opportunities I would have at such a great school.  Now that I’m actually here, they are interested in what activities I’m involved in, what classes I’m taking, what my plans for my major are, and of course whether or not I’ve seen the most recent Duke basketball game.  Once in a while, or really whenever anything exciting happens here at Duke, I send out an email to my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a high school teacher I like to keep in touch with.  Emailing my extended family not only informs them of my current life at Duke, but it also reinforces my own knowledge of what I am doing here.  I usually think of a list of accomplishments I want to tell everyone, and in addition to keeping them up to date, it is very reassuring to me to know that I actually have a list of accomplishments!  Keeping in touch lets me know that I have a family who loves me and cares about me.  After I tell them about how the past month or so has been, I receive replies back that congratulate me and encourage me to keep working hard.  I would recommend this type of communication to all college students.  It is incredibly easy to send out an email to multiple people, and I know from personal experience that family and friends appreciate me staying in touch.  Usually my emails aren’t long or detailed, and often I use it as a way to take a study break.  It’s refreshing to write about all of the accomplishments I have already made, especially if I’m working on a lengthy assignment at the time.  It only takes a few minutes once every few weeks to keep my family updated, and sharing my story with them motivates me to make the most of my time at Duke.

Without a doubt, I talk to my mom more than anyone else.  I’m not sure if my mom is just that cool, or if I’m just that uncool, but we text all the time, and I absolutely love it.  In fact, as I am writing this blog at 11 am, she has already texted me to ask how my day is going.  Of all my family, my mom gets the most attention, as she receives the emails I send to my entire family, phone calls, as well as texts like I send to my friends.

I find that texting her works especially well in combination with calling her.  Rather than setting up a specific time each week to call her, I usually send her a text asking when I can talk to her.  Sometimes I can call right away, and other times I have to wait an hour and then call.  Although I think having a special time each week to talk to a parent can work well for many college students, I find that my own method works better for my mom and me.  Because I only call when I have a specific reason, I actually have something to tell her when we talk.  Our conversations are not simply about how “everything” is going, but rather are centered on the current issues I am facing.   For example, if I have a bad day, I can usually talk to her right away without feeling like I am breaking a routine.  Most of our calls last between half an hour and an hour, which is just long enough to explain the big things happening in my life at that moment.  After we’ve updated each other, texting becomes another useful way of communicating.  Once my mom has heard the story through a phone call, she can understand the short explanations in my texts in the next few days when I continue to tell her about the story. Sometimes our texts are funny, and sometimes they are more serious.  I tell her about the annoying things that happen as well as the good parts of my day. 

Texting her also works well because I can multi-task.  For example, if I have a reading assignment, I can read a page and text her back.  This would be much harder to do in a phone call.  Additionally, texting fits into our differing schedules better than a lengthy phone call.  If I have to go to class, or she has to run an errand, we won’t text back until we can.  Our text conversation may pause for an hour, but it picks back up right where it was before it was interrupted.  Phone calls simply do not work this way.

I am not advising parents and college students to only text each other.  I am suggesting that students email, call, and text to keep in touch.  For parents to understand the whole story of their student’s time at Duke (or at least the part the student is willing to share), I firmly believe all three of these communication methods are important.

As a quick side note, if a student does not want to share something about college with his or her parents, I would advise the parents not to pressure their student into talking about it.  I tell my mom about things when I am ready, and having a nag-free mom makes it much easier for me to feel like I am talking to her because of my own will rather than parental force.  On the other hand, if a parent feels that the student is in real physical or mental danger, and the parent absolutely needs the information, I feel that the parent has the right to know every detail of the situation. They can also utilize the DukeReach system. However, if it is only a minor problem in the student’s life, it is going to cause arguing and stress if a parent demands to know about it.  Additionally, all of us must grow up eventually, whether our parents like it or not.  Learning to solve our own problems and having more privacy helps us to become responsible adults.

My relationship with my mom has definitely changed, but since the process has been gradual it is hard to explain exactly how it is different now.  She lives in Pennsylvania, and I live in North Carolina, so we’re about six hours apart in driving time.  I know that if I really needed her to be here, she could be, but I also know that I can’t take a trip home every weekend.  This separation has made me realize just how much she supported me through high school.  She used to stay up with me while I finished homework, and I’m pretty sure she could be a qualified AP Physics tutor with all the practice I gave her in that field.  However, now that I am in college I have had to become more independent.  I still email her my written assignments for proofreading, but as I explained in my second blog, my math class was a struggle.  My mom couldn’t help me in that class, and I was on my own for finding the resources I needed.  However, she supported me and encouraged me to keep trying and to do my best with learning the material.  Now that I am in college, I am on my own for finding dinner in the evenings, deciding how to do my homework, keeping track of my schedule, finding time to wash my clothes, and transporting myself around campus (no more mom taxi!).  Because of this, my mom’s moral support is even more important to me.  She sends me care packages, letters, and texts, all with encouraging words.  It motivates me when she tells me how proud she is, even if I haven’t done anything special in the past few days!  So, to all the Duke parents out there, no matter how much your student may say they’re finally independent of you, don’t believe it.  Getting a random note saying “I’m so proud of you!” will still make any Duke student’s day.  Secretly, not a single one of us here is perfect and we all love being told how amazing we are.

I’ve tried to sum up my communication and relationships with family, and from my own experience, this has been one of the biggest changes I’ve faced in college.  Figuring out how to stay connected while being so far away was difficult at first, but through trying different ways of keeping in touch, I now have a working system of updating my relatives.

To follow up on this theme, in my next blog I’ll discuss my first semester experiences going home for breaks as compared to my second semester.