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careerservices
Credit: Biruk Tibebe

There’s something about going home for the summer that initially seems so satisfying. It’s been about two months since your last break, and you’ve just finished a grueling round of finals, so you feel more than ready to see your dog or curl up in your own bed. But a few hours after that first warm hug and that nice “I’ve missed you” from your loved ones, you get hit with a wave of questions about your intended area of study and subsequent career plans. Expect to be compared to at least one relative in the family, and field a few questions on why you’re not more like him or her. 

Why do the people who provide us with so much feel so inclined to criticize us as soon as they see us? What about being a college student makes them see us as “less”? Is it simply a case of over-parenting? Or is there something more? 

Two possible answers include the media’s conventional depictions of college students and the age gap between college students and their parents. The media tends to depict college students as a strange dichotomy of overworked and lazy. There’s one depiction of the college student who spends all of his or her time studying, but does a poor job taking care of him or herself. Then there’s the other depiction — a negative one that portrays students as lazy kids who do nothing but drink, watch Netflix all day, and whittle down their parents’ money. 

The way our parents see us as college students goes hand in hand with the way they want us to spend our summers. We oftentimes seek internship opportunities that appease our parents’ expectations and concerns. Instead of pursuing opportunities that pique our interest, we tend to pursue internships that may be less appealing to our interests but sound better on paper and to our parents. 

Many parents push their kids to pursue more conventional career paths, such as medicine, law, business, or engineering. Let's not forget how much parents enjoy telling their friends and other family members that their child is working at a well-known company or pursuing a dependable, lucrative career. Nationwide, college students are veering away from humanities majors, favoring these more pre-professional paths because they are considered to be more stable in the eyes of their parents. While during the school term, Penn enables students to couple classes in conventional majors with classes in areas that genuinely interest them, many feel pressure from their parents to spend the summer doing only what their parents see as fulfilling. 

Credit: Julio Sosa

Many college students gravitate towards summer opportunities to boost their resumes instead of taking the time to relax or invest in new and creative ways to spend their summer break. 

As a result, college students shy away from more creative or unconventional opportunities during the summer, even though students should use their summer breaks to explore what interests them. Our first and second summers, in particular, can be used to broaden, rather than narrow, the scope of our vocational explorations. On a more long-term and extreme level, by adhering to our parents’ career expectations and not having passion for such careers ourselves, we risk under-performing in those careers. The time and effort that these conventional career paths require are not attainable if you feel obligated by a third party to follow such a path. 

As sad as it sounds, becoming a cog in the corporate machine can become a summer pastime as we try to keep our parents happy. But is that what college is about? Just as we are encouraged to attain a semblance of independence while away at school, we should not throw that away the second we come home just to keep our family members happy. Yet that is exactly what we do. 

While it might seem a lot easier to just give in to our family’s expectations without speaking up, there are more effective ways to reach a resolution. The advice I give might not work for every situation, considering all familial relationships are different, but there are some general ways to address the issue. 

One is to be as upfront as you can about how you feel, because just doing what your parents tell you will only harbor feelings of contempt and lead you down a path you don’t want to take. Now that you’re an adult, speaking up isn’t the same as “talking back,” which was deemed so unacceptable when you were growing up. In fact, if you are mature about it, you can prove yourself to be equal to your parents. Your response to the criticism from someone you know will prepare you for the criticism you will receive in the real world. 

You should also take what your parents say with a grain of salt. It’s up to you to determine whether what you are doing with your life is right for you. There’s a balance you need to strike: don’t completely dismiss what your loved ones have to say, but don’t change simply to fit their needs. Instead, realize that they come from a different generation, with different values and notions of what is “normal” or preferred. Be who you want to be, not who your parents think you should be. 

ALEX SILBERZWEIG is a College senior studying Science, Technology, and Society. Her email address is alexsil@sas.upenn.edu.

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