July 18, 2018

The Letter Writing Part of the Writing Life - Go Zags

Photo Credit: GU Parent and Family Calendar
I do a fair amount of volunteer work. Sometimes it's hard to decide what to work on and what to pass on, because there are so many issues that I care about that are under threat. I do try to volunteer in ways that lean into my primary interests and skill set, and I especially prefer when volunteer activities intersect with my interests and skill set (for example, writing letters about the importance of strong school libraries, or teaching classes to help others collaborate to build stronger libraries and/or stronger advocacy networks.)

Today, I had the pleasure of writing a letter to parents of incoming Gonzaga University students, welcoming them to the Gonzaga community and sharing information with them about my experiences as a "new college parent" last year. As a volunteer for the Parent-to-Parent network, I get to share information about a topic I'm familiar with and passionate about, and I get to be a resource to others who may have questions I can answer--a great assignment for a writer and consultant/trainer. 

As I re-read the letter I sent out today, I realized that other "new college parents" with students that will be attending other universities might find my letter helpful as well. In case that's you, I've pasted in below:

*****

Dear New Zags,

Welcome and Congratulations!

My name is Dawn Prochovnic, and I am a fellow “Zag Parent.” I have volunteered with Gonzaga’s Parent-to-Parent program to be a resource to help with your family’s transition to college, and more specifically to Gonzaga University. I have two children, a daughter and a son. In August, my daughter will be starting her sophomore year at Gonzaga, and my son will be starting his junior at Beaverton High School in the Portland, Oregon area. Although I’m still a relative “newbie Zag” myself, I do feel that I’ve learned a lot over the past school year, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the college transition, move-in, or the campus. If I don’t know the answer, I feel confident I could direct you to someone who does.

If you are like me last year, the problem is that you don’t even know which questions to ask, so I will give you a few hints from my experience (some of which I've “borrowed” from the Zag Parent who introduced herself to me last year : ).

First of all, you should make your hotel (or AirBnB) reservations for Orientation/Drop Off Weekend AND for the October Family Weekend NOW. The lodging in Spokane books up rather quickly. Something that I learned last year is that your student will spend VERY LITTLE time with you during the drop off/orientation weekend (and you will be very busy participating in parent orientation events during the drop-off weekend). Our family typically prefers staying in AirBnbs when we travel, because we like to have the option to cook our own meals and we like to have indoor and outdoor spaces to relax and move about. During the drop off weekend, we could have definitely stayed in a hotel room because we really didn’t spend a lot of time in our room other than for sleeping. In contrast, for family weekend, I was VERY GRATEFUL that we had booked an AirBnB with a kitchen and dining table/patio seating area, because one of the things our daughter was craving most was a home-cooked meal and some time to casually relax/watch movies/play games, etc as a family. I brought ingredients for one of her (easy to prep) favorites, and cooking and eating that meal together in a “home environment” was one of the best ways to re-connect and catch up. (NOTE: If you don’t yet use AirBnb, but you want to, let me know and I can send you an “invitation” that I think will give you a discount on your first stay.)

[This next bit of info is from the note my Zag Parent sent me last year: Some of the hotels are close enough to campus that you can walk back and forth; those are always the first to go. The beautiful Davenport Hotels (There are now 3 of them) are in downtown and a bit further away. They charge for parking but are very nice. To make reservations, you should call them and ask for the Gonzaga rate (it brings it down to about the same price of a lesser hotel). They do not offer the Gonzaga rate during Graduation weekend. I just made my reservations for Graduation next May and most of the hotels were booked up the first day they opened for reservations. Keep that in mind 4 years from now.]

Our daughter had attended a pre-orientation program (GOOB) prior to move in. She packed up everything she needed “for college” and had those belongings set aside before she flew to Spokane with a week’s worth of luggage/supplies for her GOOB experience (which was wonderful, by the way). My husband, son and I loaded up her belongings into a small trailer and drove from Portland to Spokane the Thursday afternoon before orientation weekend (the GOOB program wrapped up on that Thursday). Because she was in a pre-orientation program, we were allowed to move in her belongings on that Thursday afternoon, and she spent that first night in her dorm room. I tell you this, because, although she is very independent, she is also very family-oriented and sentimental, and I was not prepared for her to be ready to sleep in her dorm room (without her roommate having even arrived yet) that very first night. I was also not prepared for how much she had already matured after spending just one week in the pre-orientation program. This was all very positive, but also a bit of a shock to me.

Most new students/families moved in on the Friday of orientation weekend. I’ve heard some mention that parking can be a hassle on that day—I can’t really speak to that given our earlier move in day. I will say the “big move-in process" appeared to be very sociable and organized. It was on that day that we met our daughter’s roommate and her family. The moms exchanged contact info with each other and the girls. Although I didn’t really have reason to reach out to my daughter’s roommate during the school year, I felt some peace of mind knowing that I could call or text her if I felt the need to do so. 

We did most of our dorm-related shopping in Portland ahead of time. The shopping experience was an opportunity for my daughter and I to do some bonding (truth be told, it was also a time when we bickered a bit, as tensions rose as the summer progressed—even so, in hindsight, I’m still glad that we shared in those shopping outings.) There are many shopping options in Spokane. (It’s my understanding there are Gonzaga discounts offered at Fred Meyer, Bed Bath and Beyond etc.) As I mentioned earlier, your child may be free for a dinner, maybe a mid-day meet up, but otherwise you may not see them much that weekend. If I had to do it over again, I would still stay through Sunday, but it was clear that our daughter had new relationships to begin making and new experiences to begin experiencing, and by the late-morning meal we shared on Sunday, it was clear that it was time for us to go. 

We headed straight back to Portland after the drop off, but if you are not familiar with Spokane, and you have flexibility in your schedule, it is absolutely beautiful at this time of year so you could spend some additional time exploring. The Centennial trail runs through Gonzaga and downtown (we brought our bikes on family weekend, and rode along the trail and downtown). You can also ride the gondolas over Spokane falls, drive up to Mount Spokane, or head over to cute Coeur d’Alene. We prefer casual restaurants—our two favorites in Spokane are Clark’s Fork (for breakfast/lunch) and No-Li Brewhouse for lunch or dinner (both walking distance from campus). In Coeur d’Alene, we’ve enjoyed Rustic and Taphouse Unchained (both on Sherman). 

Last year my Zag Parent advised me not to buy my student a room refrigerator or microwave and to instead reserve and rent them from the school re: students’ needs change from year to year so, you may be storing that appliance if you buy. She also mentioned that they go fast, so it’s important to reserve these as soon as possible. My sister ended up gifting my daughter a fridge, and her roommate brought a microwave, so we did not rent. To note, my daughter did end up storing her fridge over the summer (in a friend’s storage unit).  

Spokane Winters are wet, COLD and snowy. Your student will need a warm rain jacket with a hood, waterproof snow boots (not Uggs!!), gloves, and warm clothing. Winter starts in Spokane in October, so during Family weekend the kids are usually ready to admit they need warmer clothes. 

Think about encouraging your child to set up a Lyft and/or Uber account if they haven’t already. This comes in very handy to get to and from the airport. I think Gonzaga has/had a shuttle to the airport during the holidays, but we welcomed the convenience of the ride services. The airport in Spokane is very low-key. It takes very little time to get there and through security. I’m told that train is also an option, but we do not have any experience with that. Although we did not allow our daughter to have a car in Spokane for the first semester, we did agree to let her drive back to Spokane after spring break, so she had a car on campus for the last couple of months of school. 

A few other details that you might find helpful:-There are MANY choices of sessions to attend during Orientation. My husband and I attended some sessions together, and some apart (trading notes as needed afterwards).
-We did not attend any formal functions during Family Weekend (we just spent time together as a family)—sorry event planners/organizers! In fact, last year we commented that we really could have visited during any other weekend, just to connect. However, we came to realize that even if we didn’t attend functions during Family Weekend, it was a time when our daughter’s friends were also occupied with their own families, so we really did have her full (or mostly full) attention. We just booked an AirBnb for Fall family weekend, 2018. -Parent and Family Relations is a wonderful resource. I describe them as a cross between a concierge and a parenting coach for parents with college-aged kids. ; ) -Care Packages: Speaking of Parent and Family Relations, they will offer you opportunities to purchase care packages. I did not purchase any of these (though I think they act as a fund raiser for a good cause). Instead, as soon as I got home from dropping my daughter off to college, I went shopping for some of her favorite snacks and small gifty-items that I thought she would enjoy (soaps, lotions, stickers for her water bottle, silly things that connected with our inside jokes and/or her interests, seasonal decorations, etc). I sent little care packages every so often, and around “holidays” like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, etc. I also wrote letters . . . good old fashioned letters. I didn’t write so much about what was going on at home while she was away . . . but instead wrote about memories I had from when she was a younger child. I have to say, of everything I sent, I honestly think the letters were the most important to her . . . and they were therapeutic for me! -Speaking of holidays, book flights home and back for Thanksgiving break sooner than later. We had originally planned that we would drive to pick her up and bring her back, but the reality is that Thanksgiving break is VERY short, and the driving can be unpredictable during that time of year. We ended up flying her home and back, but by the time we looked into tickets, the flight times available were not ideal, and of course, they were more expensive. -Shots: There is a two-part shot that is recommended (required?). We did the first part at home, but didn’t get to the second part until she got to school (so we had to get the second shot at the college health clinic instead of at our normal doctor’s office). On one hand, that was good, as it a provided a reason to “get to know” the health clinic, but it also meant our daughter’s arm was sore during that time ; ). Had I to do it over again, I would have scheduled the shots earlier in the summer so that both could have been taken care of at home.

Okay, I’ve likely bombarded you with too much information, but hopefully it’s helpful. Please don’t hesitate to call or email me with any specific questions you might have, and feel free to email just to introduce yourself if you are so inclined. Go Zags!****

So, dear readers, what are your experiences dropping your child off at college? and/or What are the things you are thinking about and wondering about as you prepare to drop your child off to college?

Best wishes for a successful transition to college in your family! 

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