Staying on campus over breaks: Voices of international students

Priyanjana Chaudhary and Lexi Woodcock

As the holiday season approaches, many students are packing their bags and getting ready to head home, but not all students are this lucky. Many international students must stay on campus over breaks. And with dining halls closed and student life at a minimum, it’s not easy. 

On Nov. 16, the Mexican movie, “Aquí y Allá” (Here and There) was shown in Hanson. The movie was about an immigrant named Pedro who returns to his home, the village of Copanatoyac, after working for years in the United States. The movie centered around the reunion and struggles Pedro faced when he was separated from his family. 

International students experience a similar separation, as they spend years studying in the U.S. while separated from their parents. Augustana is home to over 200 international students from approximately 40 countries. This is approximately 10 percent of the student body population and makes Augustana one of the most diverse colleges in the U.S. It also means a large portion of the Augustana student body has a hard time  traveling back to their home country over short breaks due to long travel time and expensive tickets.

This is the case for senior Muntari Shadrick Whabyely, an international student from Liberia who currently serves as a CA in Andreen.

“I haven’t been able to go back home since my freshman year. I actually was planning to visit but because of travel restrictions, I wasn’t able to get back home. Since then I haven’t been back to Liberia,” Whabyely said. 

Breaks may be especially hard for first year international students because they have limited resources and are still building relationships on campus. 

According to Director of Residential Life Chris Beyer, for this 2022-23 school year, there are 135 new first-year international students. There are 12 in Seminary, 39 in Andreen and 84 in Westerlin. This distribution is relative to the size of each first-year dormitory, guaranteeing a mix of domestic and international students in each building, according to Beyer.

“I always try to be careful to avoid any sort of unintentional segregation of any kind. I think that is just detrimental to the quality of our community,” Beyer said.

International students can feel holiday separation even when Augustana is not on break.

“In September, it was Founders Day, a holiday which was being celebrated back in our country. But here, it felt like a normal day to us, and I just came to the realization that it’s going to be like that for a long period of time, which made me feel very sad,” first-year student Madamazel Quartey from Ghana said.   

One major problem international students face during holidays and breaks is the lack of dining options. With all campus dining centers closed Nov. 23-26, international students have no choice but to cook or order food over Thanksgiving break. 

“There is nothing special to do in the holidays. I just stay by myself. I still have to buy pizza and other stuff because the CSL is closed, and I have to prepare my own meal. And it is very hard to get groceries, as it is cold nowadays, and I have to depend on public transportation,” Whabyely said.

While certain organizations and groups hold events and dinners for students who stay on campus over break, it is still difficult for these students to find food sometimes. Most international students don’t have a car, which makes commuting for food off-campus difficult.

“If they could manage, it would be really nice to open the dining hall or the C-store, even if just for a few hours,” Riva Kansakar, a sophomore international student from Nepal, said. “For Thanksgiving, it’s not too long, but it is really difficult during winter break.” 

When there is a break in classes, it is important that campus recognizes the opportunities and experiences of both domestic and international students.

“Augie has been a great experience for me as an international student, minus the breaks,” Kansakar said. “But I think that is just a part of being an international student. And it’s not something I’d exactly complain about. When we came here, we were prepared for breaks, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to go home.”