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International students weigh holiday plans, winter break travel options

With winter break approaching for UMN’s international students, some choose to visit family in their home country or visit other places.
Image by Ava Weinreis
International students have many options to consider during winter break.

International students at the University of Minnesota plan to spend the upcoming holiday break going to various places, treating the break as a way to visit relatives or explore new places.

Some international students choose to return to their home country to visit their family, while others visit new places during winter break.

Andrea Arifin, a second-year data science student from Jakarta, Indonesia, will visit her home country during the holiday break. This year will be Arifin’s first time traveling to Indonesia alone since coming to the United States for school.

Arifin’s mom and sister visited her in the U.S. last year, but since Indonesia observes a shorter holiday break from school and work, they were only able to make a short visit. With work and school, it is hard for Arifin to spend time with her family.

“Because we’re in school, we have a little bit of a longer break. I have an older sister back home and both of my parents work, so the Christmas holiday is probably just a week for them,” Arifin said. “It’s a little hard for them to visit me and it’s a little hard for me to visit them, because even if I fly home, then they still have to work or take time off work.”

Arifin said spending a week with her family felt weird because of how long she has been away from them.

“I feel like being gone from home so long and just seeing them for a week, it felt super quick,” Arifin said. “When you’re having fun, I feel like time goes by so quickly, so that short time that they were here felt even shorter.”

Some students, like Nisa Zulkifli, a fourth-year psychology student from Malaysia, do not mind being away from their family during the break. Zulkifli plans to travel to Europe with her friends during winter break and will return to Malaysia in the summer after graduating from the University.

“Part of it is because I’ve been away from them for three years and I usually see them when I’m back home,” Zulkifli said. “Even if they are far away from me, I can still connect with them by video calling them, and even if I’m traveling, I can still send pictures and that makes them feel closer with me.”

Zulkifli plans to visit Europe for three weeks and then return to Minnesota a week before the semester begins to explore the state and do winter activities before moving back to Malaysia in the summer.

“What I’m going to miss the most is the vibe of the holiday season. In the fall, we have pumpkin spice and apple pie, in the winter, we have snow and hot chocolate with peppermint,” Zulkifli said. “I appreciate the vibe in every season because in Malaysia we don’t have that, it’s summer all year.”

Jia Xi Tang, a second-year computer science and graphic design student from Singapore, plans to visit her sister in Los Angeles during winter break. While she stays in the U.S. because plane tickets home are expensive over Christmas, she said having a sister in the U.S. is helpful as it makes her feel less alone while studying here.

This is Tang’s second year visiting her sister in California for the holiday season. She plans to spend the break working on her design portfolio and applying for internships as her sister and brother-in-law continue to work over break.

“Last winter, my parents came over so we were all together. I call my parents every week, so it doesn’t feel too bad,” Tang said.

Arifin said she is looking forward to visiting her family but is nervous about taking 24-hour flights and layovers, considering the amount of money she spends on buying plane tickets.

“I’m definitely happy and I’m excited to see them and I’d fly home anytime I’d get a chance to fly home,” Arifin said.

Although Arifin spends the holidays with her family, she said it is hard to schedule quality time with friends in the U.S. for the holidays since she has a roommate and boyfriend, who are both graduating, and a friend coming back from a study abroad program.

“That’s the only time I can really see my family without taking a bunch of time off,” Arifin said. “That’s what’s really tricky, and that’s always the issue throughout the holidays is deciding to go back or staying because there’s a bit of a tradeoff with both.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Nisa’s last name. Her name is Nisa Zulkifli.

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