International students form family bonds away from home for holidays

Susan Du, City Editor

For Northwestern international students separated from their families by continental distances for most of the school year, the holidays can represent an opportunity for a long-overdue reunion. But for those bypassing a return home this season due to budget constraints, these times can also present a significant emotional challenge.

However, as NU actively strives to incorporate more diversity into its student body – both economic and racial – the expanding international student community has devised a variety of alternative holiday traditions.

Instead of going home, some international students consider the holidays as a chance to travel. Some head straight for the balmy beaches of Miami while others organize cross-country backpacking or road trips. The International Student Association, which helps students with few other ties in America get to know others with a similar predicament, connects holiday wanderers with their peers.

Weinberg junior Joyce Fan said student organizations serve as a platform for students to bond and then form alternative break plans. Fan is not an active member of ISA but considers the group a networking resource through which she has met core friends.

“There is a trend that a lot of international students do travel together during winter break if they can’t go home or they decide not to,” Fan said. “That’s pretty typical.”

Fan added that the economic burden of returning home can persuade some international students to find more creative ways of spending time away from school.

“Of course the tickets are expensive, but even if you plan ahead, they’re still a pretty significant cost,” Fan said. “But it’s when you come back, mostly, that you’re really jet-lagged, and it’s the start of Winter Quarter, and there’s a week of hell when you’re really sleeping during classes and really hyper during the night.”

In addition to traveling, some international students plan to celebrate the holidays with volunteer host families, including tagging along with American friends on their trips home. For other students planning to spend winter break locally, their connections with other international students represent a type of modern family away from home.

ISA spokesman Aditya Raikar said the experiences he has had with other members of the organization have proven to him that NU’s international student community is a “home away from home” for many.

“If ever you’re homesick, all the people in that association are going through the same thing,” the Weinberg freshman said. “In a way, it helps to lessen the culture shock that you experience. And the experiences we’ve all had is pretty similar, so it’s really like a little family.”