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Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Far from Home: International students over winter break

International+students+at+Ithaca+College+face+a+difficult+decision+before+every+break%3B+Take+the+long+journey+home+or+spend+time+on+campus+where+there+are+limited+facilities+and+interaction%3F%0A
Maddy Tanzman
International students at Ithaca College face a difficult decision before every break; Take the long journey home or spend time on campus where there are limited facilities and interaction?

While many of their peers embark on journeys home for the holidays, some international students often find themselves grappling with the complexities of staying behind. In what is usually a campus buzzing with busy energy, the quiet campus and the hushed corridors of residence halls become the backdrop for a different narrative. Navigating the winter break as an international student at Ithaca College presents a unique set of challenges that often go unnoticed. 

Money, time and jet lag are a few of the reasons why international students may find themselves staying on campus for winter break. Sophomore Undarmaa Tserenkhuu, who stayed on campus winter23, said the long flights home and back were just not worth it. 

“I would just have to experience jet lag twice during winters,” Tserenkhuu said.

There was no extra fee charged for students who stayed over winter break. They could remain in their dorm until Dec. 22 at 10:00 a.m. and return Jan. 1 at 1:00 p.m. when the campus opened again. The only residences that remain open all year round are Eastman Hall, Talcott Hall and Terrace 6, as well as Circle and Garden Apartments.

Amanda Walrad, assistant director of Housing Services & Communications, said students could reach out to the Residential Life office to inquire about available spaces in the residence halls and apartments that are open year long. However, she emphasized that availability is not guaranteed, as it depends on the quick turnover of spaces.

“If a student is not in that area, and they need to stay, we ask that they try to find someone in an apartment that they could stay with as a guest or try to find others off campus,” Walrad said. “If they can’t find someone, we will try our best to house them based on availability. We don’t want to leave anyone out in the cold.”

Walrad said these residencies are assigned with the goal of making it easier to provide services like facility maintenance because of the reduced staff on campus over break.

“We purposely choose buildings, the Terraces 6 and Talcott that have bigger kitchens, so students can take advantage of the kitchen in those areas to cook their meals,” Walrad said.

Tserenkhuu said on-campus jobs allow students the ability to work fulltime over break and provide them with the opportunity to connect with people more often during break.

“I would recommend [students who are planning to stay over future winter breaks] to connect with more students who are staying on campus,” Tserenkhuu said. “I don’t think it’s that uncommon to stay on campus during winter, but from what I know; people just don’t connect to each other.”

Other students, such as sophomore Zara Makkaoui, an international student from Morocco who stayed with a friend in San Francisco for the winter, said they prefer finding alternatives to staying on campus because of the lack of students on campus.

“I wouldn’t want to stay here,” Makkaoui said. “Especially when there’s no one around; like, my friends are all gone. And then there’s no food. And there’s nothing to do even like downtown Ithaca, everything’s pretty much closed.”

First-year student Oscar Jimenez Rodriguez said he enjoyed staying on campus this past winter break. He said he wanted to get a chance to relax and that was exactly what happened.

“For me, it was a good experience, but I wanted a particular peace,” Jimenez said. “For other people, beware that it’s pretty lonely.” 

Staying on campus is not always the student’s first choice, but for some students, choosing to go home over break comes with its own set of challenges. 

Sophomore Ruth Ayambem, who traveled back home to Nigeria last winter and spent the past break with their sibling in Pennsylvania, said that as an international student, she is constantly forced to take into consideration multiple factors that others might not.

“I’m possibly going home this summer, and it’s something that we started talking about in December,” Ayabem said. “When going to Pennsylvania, I booked a ticket like two weeks before.”

Senior Inbaayini Anbarasan, who traveled back home to India this break, said that traveling usually ends up with her taking over 40 hours to get from one place to another or paying more money for a few hours less of travel. Anbarasan said most of these hours are spent waiting at the airport or bus stop for hours on end. At one point, she said she spent 11 hours at the airport waiting for connecting flights. 

“It’s usually just a gambling game of, ‘Oh, am I spending more money? Or am I spending more time?’” Anbarasan said. 

For international students, preparation is essential when traveling, as conversion rates and ticket prices can vary heavily depending on when students are buying them or for what dates. In most cases, students must arrange their own itinerary and match times with different airlines and buses to get to their final destination.

Ayambem said that traveling back home was not an option this year, as prices were too expensive. 

“There could be like a $500 difference between a flight on Monday and a flight on Friday,” Ayambem said. “Then, I have to pick the one on Monday even though classes start the next week.”

On top of all these, winter break presents a unique challenge because of New York’s unpredictable weather. International students and their families check, hoping that the flights they bought months in advance do not get canceled or delayed, derailing the itinerary that has been planned. Anbarasan, who flew out from India on Tuesday, Jan. 16, said she struggled with these  in her most recent travel back to Ithaca.

“My domestic flight within India that would connect me to a big international airport was canceled,” Anbarasan said. “Which ended up changing my entire itinerary and causing me to pay more money. It was really inconvenient for me and pushed my trip back a couple of days, and though it gave me extra time with my family, was really upsetting.”

Anbarasan said her experiences during breaks have improved thanks to her own proactiveness, reaching out to people for rides and any other sort of help. 

“I think being very proactive, and doing your research, and knowing all the options available to you, and asking your fellow international students how they travel, and how they find the flights that they are able to find, stuff like that, is really, really helpful.” Anbarasan said.

Makkaoui said she has asked for funds for traveling previously and gave up on her attempts to get any financial support when the school told her they did not have enough funds to give out to students. 

“You can’t bring home here. No matter what you do, it’s never going to be like that,” Makkaoui said. “Like I said, I never stayed here because I stayed a couple of breaks on campus, and it was not a good experience. That’s why I just would never ever want to stay here. I just wish they were a little bit more aware that there are international students that home is not even an option to go back to.”

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Mariana Contreras, Assistant Life and Culture Editor
Maddy Tanzman, Photo Editor
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