Going home not an option for some

International students face many difficulties going home during break.

by Elizabeth Giorgi

For many students, winter break is a time to relax at home with friends and families.

But some international students have difficulty going home or don’t have the opportunity to go home at all.

Psychology professor Kate Briggs said the scheduling of international flights can be difficult when determining final exam times and when students can go home.

“A student who is flying to, say, Greece or China, for the semester break may have less flexibility than students who are traveling to Wausau (Wis.),” she said.

For some students, going back to their homes overseas isn’t an option because it is such a short break, Thomas said.

Whereas many of their college friends may spend the break at their family’s homes, the majority of international students don’t go home because of cost or because of a lack of time, she said.

“When students don’t have people around it becomes kind of a downtime and they become homesick,” she said.

International Student Friendship Ministries vice president Johannes Marliem said many students choose not to go home during the semester break because they would rather wait until summer, when there is more time to spend at home.

International students who decide to travel home during semester break must be sure to get a travel clearance signature on their visa at International Student and Scholar Services before leaving, Thomas said.

After Sept. 11, 2001, there were several incidents in which individuals were withheld from the United States, and there were some cases of students not getting back in time for classes, she said.

“These problems have been pretty much solved, and it is less of an issue than it even was last year,” she said.

Asking for help

Although finals can create a large amount of stress for the average student, it can be even more stressful if English is a student’s second language.

One of the main things professors can do is be attentive about the use of the English language, Briggs said.

Briggs said written exams in straight-forward English can prevent errors as well as reduce confusion during exam time.

Another minor difference is the format of the testing. Some international students have never used a Scantron exam. It is best for students to ask professors to double-check their test for logistical errors, she said.

International Student and Scholar Services Director Kay Thomas said communication between professors and students is key for students to be successful.

“The hardest thing for many international students is to just ask for (help),” she said.

Most professors are very flexible in working with students regarding their concerns, Thomas said. If students are hesitant about the strength of their English or if they are concerned about whether they will be able to finish the exam in time, they must communicate these concerns.

She said many University students turn to family and friends for support during finals time.

But Thomas said that for some international students, the lack of family and friends in the area can increase their loneliness.

The Minnesota International Student Association tries to open its office as often as possible so students can have a quiet place to study or a place to relax, said Aditya Malhotra, electrical engineering senior and former Minnesota International Student Association president.

Marliem said the International Student Friendship Ministries offers counseling to students who are having a difficult time managing their stress during finals time.

“We gather to talk about how to encounter stress during exams and how to manage time,” he said.

The group advises students to plan and try to not spend entire days studying, Marliem said. It is important for students to set aside time to relax so they don’t become overwhelmed, he said.

Studying in groups also can help many students because it keeps them from spending all their studying time alone, he said.

Differences in exams

Marliem came to the University after completing two years at a school in Indonesia. He said his experience with U.S. final exams has been easier in some ways.

Indonesian students may have more than one final exam per day because the exams are on the last day of class; whereas at the University, exams are spread out over the course of a week. There is more time to prepare here, he said.

Marliem said he prefers the exams in the United States because they are more objective regarding course concepts learned over the semester, and in Indonesia there were more questions that required critical analysis outside of his knowledge.

Malhotra said his experience with final exams in the United States was much easier than the exams he took in India.

In India, there is only one exam to cover the entire course, he said. In the United States, the course is separated into parts, and there are midterms to make the finals easier.