International students plan for winter break around ticket expenses, quarantine requirements


Meher Yeda/Daily Senior Staffer

Some international students cannot travel back home this break, so they have to make alternative plans.

Aviva Bechky, Reporter

SESP freshman Ana de Souza normally spends New Year’s Eve at home in Brazil, where people often dress in colors that represent hopes for the coming year. Most commonly, she said, people wear white for peace.

This year, de Souza can’t go home, but she thinks she’ll dress up anyway.

“Every year I’m like, ‘No, I’m not gonna worry about the colors,’” she said. “Then when Dec. 31 comes, I’m like, ‘No, I am. I’m not gonna run this risk,’ and end up dressing in traditional colors.”

De Souza will stay in California with her aunt over winter break. She’s one of many international students making plans to remain in the United States, whether on campus or elsewhere.

Some students can’t travel home because they would need to quarantine through most or all of break. And because travel tickets around the holidays are often cost-prohibitive, some are criticizing Northwestern’s decision to start classes Jan. 3. 

In a November email to students, Residential Services said students who live on campus and cannot travel home can stay in graduate housing for a $1050 fee. “Students will be housed in apartments with full kitchens, have access to a full-service desk with mail & packages, and have overnight security,” the email read.

Weinberg sophomore Rui Wen, an international student from Shenzhen, China, stayed in that housing last year.

“Each of us have our apartment, but because it’s unfurnished, so it’s kind of depressing (to) stay inside,” she said. “It was nice that I had some friends who also stayed here.”

This year, Wen will travel with a friend to Atlanta and New Orleans and then stay in her friend’s apartment until school resumes. Quarantine requirements in China differ by city, but generally involve a minimum 14-day quarantine, so returning home isn’t practical for Wen. 

Weinberg sophomore Danling Zhou, who lives in Ningbo, China, also can’t go home. Instead, she plans to visit friends in California for five days and live in on-campus housing for the remainder of break. She’s excited for a respite from school.

“I’m definitely looking forward to my trip to California,” she said. “But other than that, just take a break.”

Brazil doesn’t have quarantine restrictions like China’s — travelers only need to present a negative COVID-19 test — but the distance presents other obstacles.

De Souza said she started looking for winter break plane tickets home in May, but they were expensive even then. The cost, she said, is made even higher by the fact that NU’s winter break ends so close to New Year’s Day, when tickets are at a premium.

“I’m going to visit (my aunt) because tickets to go to Brazil are really expensive,” de Souza said. “I can’t really afford that right now.”

For de Souza, returning over the summer to her home in São Paulo is a priority. Though she noted she might have opportunities in the U.S., she wants to see her family.

“The thing is that I’m not really excited about (my winter break plans),” de Souza said. “I’m not really happy about it, because deep, deep down, I know that I just wanted to be home.”

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Twitter: @avivabechky

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