Section: Opinion

Growing pains: sharing a Kenyon education with parents

We live in a historically defining moment, having to constantly adapt to unknowns. Many of us, including myself, are undertaking this journey alongside people we might not have selected.  Currently, my days consist of reading compelling history and women’s and gender studies research while surrounded by a mother who gardens religiously, a father with midnight office hours for students in India and an uninterested 13-year-old dog. By sharing my present situation, I hope that in return students reflect on their Kenyon identity as it evolves and adapts in their new academic landscapes.

I’m writing to you from a desk, whose edges encase all that remains of my Kenyon spring semester: unreturned library books, a laptop and an email account connecting me to my Kenyon community. There’s a question I’ve been dodging since the beginning of online classes: Why do I hold on so tightly to my Kenyon-infused workplace? I guess I believe that leaving this room means entering a more frightening place, one where parents politely decline discourse on growing feminist ideology, transnational thought or historical paradigms. They resist joining conversations that aren’t as light as those held over dinner. To them, it is merely unappetizing. To me, it is the last imaginary leap back to Kenyon. My parents are not the colleagues, the professors or the AVI staff that have shaped my Kenyon identity.

Without a doubt, I am thankful for the lessons my parents taught me and the roof above my head. My parents raised me in a little place called B-town, 5,000 miles from their homeland. Being the  only Romanians we knew, we depended on each other to cultivate some sort of identity. Before Kenyon, my mom and dad were my muses, soundboards and my only lifeline. As I navigated my first year on campus as an only child and first-generation citizen, my parents’ advice kept me grounded. Knowing that their teachings elevated me to the intellectual caliber that Kenyon demanded, I see my mom and dad as my most valuable educators and closest friends. Now I return home on an unexpected break, and I struggle to make banter not turn into an ideological dispute. What changed? How do I balance both my Kenyon identity and family identity?

The trial and errors of this new learning environment are simply my growing pains as I experience a Kenyon education among my family instead of my peers. However, while everyone is currently living on top of each other, perhaps I should see my family as the key to maintaining the Kenyon conversations my friends and I started on the Hill. As much as I long for Kenyon, we can still create action by sparking constructive dialogue. Maybe I should venture outside my Kenyon sanctuary at home and not give up on my parents, who love to learn just as much as I do.

In a post-COVID-19 future, I hope to graduate. When I do, I want to teach others what Kenyon taught me. Every day reminds me of the reality that post-grad life is a more glorified version of now. While my dream job, ideal city and like-minded community might be on hold, I still have to learn and grow, even without Kenyon’s safety net. Moreover, I must learn to collaborate with those not of the Kenyon persuasion. One day, I might have an old boss; will they be receptive to my new ideas? I might work with young interns; will they be reluctant to hear my advice?

As my parents test my patience and we continue losing sleep over our differences, I acknowledge their counterarguments broaden my worldly perspective. Moreover, this close-quarters situation demands me to cultivate respect. My future career in the humanities contrasts with my parents’ scientific passions. How do I engage and teach them about what I love? How do I suspend my opinions to hear theirs? While we wait, I hope we practice patience for the benefit of learning from those around us. Right now, I’m reminded of Kenyon’s academic mission more than ever as I learn how to find common ground and collaborate with others. Sharing a Kenyon education with my parents once felt impossible. As I think of all my peers around the world disseminating their Kenyon lessons, I gain strength to believe I can do it too. Obedient to some strange spell, we should continue to enlighten others, for then we are not too far apart.

Celina German ’21 is a history major with a women’s and gender studies concentration from Bloomington, Ind. You can contact her at german1@kenyon.edu.

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