A man imagines doing a number of winter-themed activities.
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Junior year is tough. Scratch that. Every year is tough. Each semester at college comes with its own challenges. As I attained upperclassmen status last fall, I braced myself for a difficult semester, and fall 2022 delivered. My toughest — yet most enjoyable, — semester had me on my knees by October, and when Thanksgiving break rolled around, I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained.

“All I want to do over the holidays is relax,” I remember telling my parents midway through the term. Once I factored in the approximately two-day trip between the States and my home in India, I realized that I had exactly 20 days of winter break and I intended on doing nothing but recharging my batteries. As of today, the winter semester has begun and I, unfortunately, do not feel nearly rested enough for what promises to be another jam-packed four months.

For students who had exams on the final day of the fall semester, the winter break was just 16 days long. Meanwhile, other prominent public universities across the country such as UC Berkeley and UCLA offer 25 and 26 days, respectively. Even the holiday periods of neighboring universities, namely Ohio State and Michigan State, are similar to those of the aforementioned UCs. While an early start for U-M students also means that we break for summer earlier than most, an extra couple of weeks in an already long summer break is not nearly as valuable as even just a few extra days before the winter semester begins.

Over and above the shorter break, however, is its timing. Since winter break falls during the holiday season, it is often filled with social commitments that are time-consuming and can sometimes be more taxing than relaxing. Even without the holiday celebrations, going back home usually involves meeting friends and relatives that you haven’t seen for a few months. In a bid to maintain relations, fulfilling multiple social obligations are crammed into one day and the time to rest and recuperate is lost.

Then there’s the matter of academic work. Yes, there are no assignments or projects over the break, but professional commitments hardly take a step back either. Job and internship searches, which can sometimes take a backseat during the semester, are at the forefront of many students’ minds during the break. Part of this process is attempting to bump up one’s resume with personal projects or something of that ilk. I attempted to dedicate my time to a personal project, by building a website for a client, but was unable to even get a working version of the site up and running because of constantly being on the move and having to squeeze work sessions in at airports and train stations.

Yes, there is an argument to be made that a lot of these things are optional and could even be considered distractions. You don’t need to meet all your high school friends and relatives. You don’t have to work on internships if you already got one in the fall cycle. You can choose to not do any of these things and just rest. But the truth is that it isn’t that easy. The importance of rest, which I believe many students today do understand, stands in direct contrast with the environment of toxic productivity that society and educational institutions create. Finding the balance between getting enough rest and still being productive or between pushing your limits and while prioritizing wellbeing is one of the biggest challenges students of this generation are facing, and only those with great discipline and time-management are overcoming it.

If, by some miracle, there are a special few who have the ability to do all of this (and more) while also taking the time out to take care of themselves, I want to remind you that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The social and academic commitments are just the things that you need to do, but not necessarily the things you want to do. 

What about the writing minor that wants to rent a log cabin in Europe for two weeks, cut off from the world and just work on his book? What about the Pokémon lover who has been planning his own game forever but just cannot find the time to begin making it. Because, I am that person, but with this winter break it felt like I wasn’t living, only barely surviving.

Yes, a few extra days wouldn’t change many of these things. But if the University made the decision to extend the break such that it ended the fall semester on Friday, Dec. 16, and started on Monday, Jan. 9, as opposed to Monday, Jan. 19, it would make a difference. Two extra weekends would help students believe that they could actually achieve something this break while also taking a step back and resting, in whatever way makes them feel calm and recharged. Right now, half the battle is lost before the break even begins. Going into a holiday shouldn’t feel daunting, but somehow, this break felt that way and that is something that needs to change.

Regardless of whether or not there is any change, I would like to say that rest isn’t just important, but necessary and on your to-do list over the break. I recommend that you put it right at the tippy top.

Rushabh Shah is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at rushabhk@umich.edu.