Short breaks generate thoughtful decisions

María Fernanda Rubí

As senior Mike Bui looked up plane tickets from Chicago to Nepal, his search showed prices averaging $1400 for a roundtrip. 

“I live halfway across the world. I don’t go [home] for short breaks because it wouldn’t be affordable to fly home and then come back in such a short amount of time,” Bui said.

Short breaks serve as an opportunity to rest from classes, reunite with loved ones and disconnect from Augie. However, for some students like Bui, small breaks imply planning, reflecting on priorities and weighing and comparing the benefits different options entail. 

Because going back home is not a simple three-hour drive for international students, they usually stay on campus during short breaks. Although they won’t be crossing countries’ borders, they still need to think of what those days on campus will look like, especially when the dining hall closes.

“When I was a freshman or sophomore, cooking wasn’t really a day to day thing because we didn’t live in a TLA, so on break we had to plan ahead how we would be able to survive,” Bui said.

Bui and his friends who stayed on campus didn’t have a car, so they depended on others to organize their meals during those years. 

“We would have to ask around to see who would be available to help us go buy groceries to cook in the residence hall’s kitchen,” Bui said. “There are no cooking appliances so we had to buy those… so it also comes down to how well you plan ahead before the break.”

During that time, hanging out off-campus was hard for Bui and his friends, but the strong sense of community made those days good ones. 

“I don’t feel alone,​​ it’s very fortunate that Augie has a lot of international students,” Bui said. “We stay here, and we get to be stuck on campus together.”

However, it is also common for domestic students to stay on campus during short breaks. A drive home is not always easy when money is involved. 

Junior Eric Reinertsen, a student worker at Pepsico and campus recreation, stayed on campus during J-Term and spring break. After four months, he is finally going back home for Easter. Because he doesn’t have a job in his hometown, his deciding factor is whether or not he would be able to grab those extra shifts on campus that he cannot take when he is in class. 

“It really just hurts me if I go home for a long time when I could be working,” Reinersten said. “It financially doesn’t make sense for me to go home even if I want to because I don’t make enough money on campus to really be able to afford to pay for the gas to go home a lot.”

For students like Reinersten, breaks are when they can take advantage of working. He works between seven to 10 hours a week during school, while he was able to work significantly more over spring break.

He isn’t able to work this break since the Westerlin Activity Center (WAC) and PepsiCo will be closed. So, the decision is made; the two-hour drive home is better than staying on campus. 

Junior Kelli McNeice stayed at Augie for similar reasons. 

“I work at QC pancakes and this weekend is a very busy one, so I figured that because I can only really work on the weekends because of class schedules, I would rather work four days than two and get the extra money,” McNeice said.

Additionally, it is expensive to travel home.

“The price of gas is going up and filling up my car is like $100,” McNeice said. “I need a full tank of gas to get in between here and Chicago.” 

Aside from financial reasons, the dining hall schedule is another deciding factor, especially for those students who do not have their own kitchen.

“Before, the CSL was what determined if I’d stay,” Reinersten said. “Now that I’m a junior and I have my own kitchen, I don’t really think about that because I know I’ll be able to make my own food whenever I want.” 

McNeice said she would also think about the dining hall menu. She said she would notice that there are fewer dining hall options during breaks. So, for her, going home was a better option. 

“It’s cost effective to have less food options, but I found that it wasn’t really the best to stay here for short breaks food situation wise,” McNeice said.

For international students like Bui, the decision has already been made; going back home is not an option when breaks are short and flights are long and expensive. 

“A flight to Vietnam is like 20 hours in total, so it would be two whole days wasted on traveling,” Bui said. “It wouldn’t be worth it.”

For the students staying on campus during these breaks, disconnecting from the Augie they are used to is still possible. 

“It is a slower pace where you get time for yourself and do things that you don’t usually get to do when there’s a school year going on and you’re surrounded by everyone,” Bui said.

Although some students don’t have to think twice to fill their gas tanks and drive home for short breaks, it is not an easy decision to make for other students. While domestic students face the dilemma of staying on campus, international students are busily planning what their break will look like at Augie.