When my son was getting ready to start college, while my Latina mom’s brain brimmed with anxiety, my heart swelled with pride.

As an immigrant mother, I dreamed of this day, envisioning him strolling through the beautiful campuses I had seen on movies and TV, delving deep into academia and paving his way for the future.

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But this college journey was not just about his discoveries. It brought a cascade of surprises my way as well.

Surprise 1: The Great Vacation Migration

Growing up in Venezuela, ‘vacation’ mainly revolved around two-week-long end-of-the-year celebrations and a 10-week break during the summer. My college breaks always felt too short.

Christmas break was filled with essays to write and final tests to prepare for. Meanwhile, summer was spent at the beach and visiting family and friends, at least during my first two semesters. After that, I worked full time and went to college at night. There was no free time.

Now, I navigate a flurry of new breaks: spring break, winter break, reading weeks and summer vacation. It felt like a rhythmic dance; as soon as I got used to my son’s presence at home, he prepared to leave unless it was summer. Then, he had four months off.

Too much time to vegetate at home, too little time to get a job, particularly a position that would accommodate family travels and visitors. Laundry multiplied and our kitchen felt like a bustling café with friends and family visiting.

Yet a silver lining emerged within this hustle: moments of reconnection shared over hot arepas and café con leche.

Then he goes back, and I miss him again. The house feels empty, just like the first day we sent him to college. In proper Latina mom form, his absence seems unnatural. I take weeks to get used to him being gone. Of course, once I start feeling normal, he is back again.

Surprise 2: The Gold-Plated Textbooks

Never had I imagined that college textbooks could be so pricey. Each semester brought a new challenge: the hunt for affordable versions of the books he needed, scouring used bookstores, or diving into campus book swaps and internet PDFs.

I quickly realized that college expenses extended beyond tuition. They lurked in the shadows, waiting to pounce. But in true Latinx spirit, I have become an expert at finding the best deals.

Of course, it’s the dorm first, the apartment next, and the car. He has a job, of course. But the avalanche of expenses never seems to cease. We are lucky; I know. My son won’t end his college years with massive debt, but the struggle is daily, monthly, and constant.

Surprise 3: Short but Intense Semesters

In Venezuela, our college years felt like marathons — there are five, by the way. Here, college semesters race by like sprints. Just as I’d hear about his midterms, invitations for end-of-semester events would arrive.

The pace and intensity is daunting. Late-night studies, looming deadlines and heightened expectations are packed into a few weeks. Anxiety mounts. It’s hard to help from a distance.

Surprise 4: The Latina Mom’s biggest enemy

Above all, knowing when to intervene or finding a wall when I try without his permission is the most challenging thing. I was shocked when doctors refused to give me information, for example.

Latinx families with children in college navigate a new educational system and a culture emphasizing privacy and individuality — an antithesis to ours. Butting in is a Latina mom love language!

Yet, watching him navigate and thrive within these confines fills me with immense pride.

In reflection, the college adventure is as much a journey for the family as it is for the student. While it’s dotted with challenges, the rewards are plentiful. Expensive textbooks and fleeting semesters aside, the life lessons are genuinely invaluable.

To all Latino parents embarking on the college journey, brace yourselves. It’s a journey packed with revelations and delight!