THE BLOG

College Homecoming Is Not Like High School

01/07/2014 10:52 am ET | Updated Mar 08, 2014

When my family asks about the college experience, they expect to hear about my semester grades, or whether I'm seeing anyone or not. They don't want to see me drinking wine underage, or discussing the pros and cons of socialism. That's not the Aryanna they know, and they may never know her.

Everyone in my dad's family has a reputation earned from years of interaction. As in high school, it's not so easy to alter my image. I earned a new name for myself in college, but my fate is sealed as a Prasad.

I am the fourth of nine grandchildren on my father's side, and I am the second child of three siblings. I've got a terrible case of middle child syndrome, and it shaped my views as I grew up. To summarize the experience is this: I felt overlooked. My brother was smarter, my sister was cuter and they were both funnier than me. At least, that's how I saw it, and I assumed everyone else did, too.

I brought my baggage with me each year I revisited. My cousins chimed in when my sister picked on me, and in absence of wit, I reacted with anger. No one will let me forget the summer when I flipped a checkers board mid-game because it distracted my cousins from an announcement I'd made.

I've outgrown a good bit of this behavior, but Rochester brings out the skeletons in my closet. As soon as I set foot in my aunt's house, I become the little girl who broke a mirror in her nani's basement, and pushed her cousin down at the zoo.

My family only saw me in New York for a few weeks at a time. They watched me grow up, but they didn't see everything. They never saw the girl who recited speeches or led student government. I didn't know myself growing up, and I couldn't expect my family to know me either.

After a three-year absence, I returned to Rochester this winter on the cusp of young adulthood. I expected to continue as my usual college self, but I wasn't afforded a reorientation. My political analysis was treated as mere opinion rather than that of a political communications student. Though I've hitchhiked through Europe, my family continued to ask my brother about his worldly travels. My family congratulated me on writing for the Huffington Post, but I felt upstaged when my brother spoke of the Montreal musical festival he founded. I hadn't fought with my sister in years, yet there was the name-calling and arm-pinching.

Being there resuscitated my old quirks. I earned the moniker "Almond Joy" when a welt developed on my forehead from a game of Hide-and-Go-Seek in the dark. On my second day back, I tripped midway down a staircase. I haven't been clumsy in years, but I was famous for it in childhood.

In college, I am known for my identity and accomplishments in various circles, not as another one of the Prasad bunch. I hardly ever buy clothes, unlike the possessor of a "fashion license" made by my younger sister. My arguments are metered, unlike the ones that ended in board-flipping.

No matter how much I've learned about life, it'll never be easy to share this new, adult part of myself with family.

I could reinvent myself in college, but not at home. Sure, I had grown up, but that didn't mean I outgrew who I was. My family will never see my as my classmates, coworkers or professors do. They aren't supposed to.

A year ago, a friend told me to stop acting like a princess during an argument. I must have looked surprised, because he asked, "Has anyone ever told you that before?"

"No," I replied. "No one except my family."

I consulted my cousin Collier, who empathized with my feelings. "You should hear what people say when you're not around," he consoled. Apparently his brother, Liam, feels the same growing pains. My newly found self has more discovering to do.

So maybe there is some truth to it all. Maybe the clumsy fashionista is still there, hidden under a refined college kid. Boarding school and college opened my mind in unprecedented ways. I'm no longer afraid to flex my brain, and I'm not going back to fitting into a mold. But there is some truth to my familial reputation. After all, they know me better than anyone else does. They know the girl who kept jabbering in the kitchen, and they see her doing the same today. I don't know who I'll be in ten years, but I rest assured my family will.