International students skip short visit home

Some students feel the limited winter break isn’t worth the trip.

Hailey Colwell

In nearly four years at the University of Minnesota, neuroscience senior Eza Kadir has never traveled home over winter break.

Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a plane ticket and at least a day in transit to return to her native Malaysia, Kadir said she’s used the break to visit Michigan, Chicago and New York.

Like Kadir, some of the University’s international students choose not to return home over winter break after weighing travel costs against the limited amount of time they’d be home and opportunities to travel the U.S. or work on campus.

Some students say it makes more sense to go back in the summer, when they can be home for three months.

“If you’re going to finally go home, you want to spend a lot of time. It’s … halfway around the world,” said Sarbnoor Gill, an industrial engineering graduate student from India.

Gill said he went home last year over winter break because it was his first year and his parents insisted he come back. This winter, he said, he’ll go to a wedding in Maryland and work on campus, where he can log twice the hours per week he does when school is in session. 

Economics sophomore and Chinese Student Union President Yiren Wang said most of the international students he knows go home over winter break when they’re freshmen or sophomores but choose to stay in the U.S. as upperclassmen because they’re more established on campus.

Wang said summer is an ideal time to go back because students have enough time to take a May session class at the University and spend two months at home. 

Most international students return home only once a year, said Chiho Watanabe, an adviser for the University’s International Student and Scholar Services.

Before leaving, most students have to go to ISSS to renew their travel signature, which expires after one year and is needed to re-enter the U.S., she said.

Though students have more time when they go home in the summer, Watanabe said, ISSS is busy in December, April and May as students prepare for trips.

“It gets quite overwhelming in the office this time of year,” Watanabe said.

More than a thousand students came to ISSS last December seeking travel signatures or other pre-travel assistance, she said.

Students traveling home during breaks also need to be sure to monitor their visas, making sure they’re up to date before returning to the U.S., Watanabe said.

ISSS also counsels international students on any issues they want to talk about, including homesickness, Watanabe said.

When students come into the office feeling homesick, she said, counselors’ first advice is telling students to meet more peers by joining student groups or partaking in other campus programming instead of just going back to their home country.

Economics junior Solhi Musa said he spends time with friends and student groups like the Malaysian Student Association to fill the place left by being away from his family. 

Kadir said she reminds herself that she’ll go home this summer, and that helps her get through the year away from her family.

In the meantime, she’ll be traveling to Miami to “run away from the snow” this winter break, she said.