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International Students Navigate Being Away From Home on the Holidays

International students share their sentiments about holidays away from home, how they’ve found a Howard community to spend them with and give insight on how student organizations can be more helpful to the cause.

A plate of soul food sits on display in Blackburn Cafeteria. (Demetrick Conyers/The Hilltop)

As the end of the semester approaches, many students plan their return home for the Thanksgiving holiday break. This, however, isn’t the case for all students. With international flight costs rising, many international students cannot return home for the holiday season, making a poignant reminder of how much they miss their families. 

Shenel Blygin, a junior biology major and chemistry minor from Spanish Town, Jamaica, reflected on her Thanksgiving experience last year, which she spent with her extended family in New York. 

“I wasn’t really close with my family members in the U.S., so it was nice to meet everyone when they came over for Thanksgiving. I liked the experience because it was a way of bonding through preparing food and meeting new people,” Blygin said. 

As one of the resident advisors (RA) in the Harriet Tubman Quadrangle, Blygin has decided to stay on campus during the Thanksgiving break. She feels strongly that activities can be planned to curtail any isolation or loneliness students have while staying on campus. 

“The person that is closest to residents in the dorm is the RA because they are the first point of contact if there are any issues. I feel like we could have our own Thanksgiving and bonding activities since we don’t want to feel lonely here. Quad already has a ‘sisterhood,’ so it would be easier for us to implement that,” she said. 

Since arriving on campus, Blygin hasn’t returned to see her family in Jamaica. She expressed how difficult it is to purchase tickets home as an international student with limited funds. 

“Since I’ve been here, I have not been to Jamaica,” she said. “Seeing everyone go home and express how they’ve had fun makes me feel some way because I miss home. I miss the food, I miss the lifestyle, I miss my friends back home.” 

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Shenel Blygin and her mother pictured. Photo courtesy of Shenel Blygin.

Blygin proposed that student organizations with members who have to stay on campus organize a feast for the students far away from home that could be similar to Thanksgiving.

Syria George, a sophomore honors accounting major from Trinidad and Tobago, expressed that her experience as an international student has been good so far because she found a community of fellow Trinidadians and Jamaicans. George described her last Thanksgiving as a “Caribbean Thanksgiving dinner” prepared by her Trinidadian aunt in New York. With plans to stay on campus this year, George has surrounded herself with friends she has made through being a member of the Caribbean Students’ Association and the National Association of Black Accountants. 

“I have some friends from Nigeria and a friend from Ghana, so we’re all going to bring a dish and do a little potluck in their room or something like that,” George said. 

Also a resident advisor, George plans to help her residents engage with each other for their last floor meeting. 

“I was planning on bringing some snacks and having a conversation about their Thanksgiving plans, how they’re preparing for finals, and stuff like that,” She said. 

George shared similar sentiments with Blygin. She thinks that the university should open the cafeteria for the students already on a meal plan who do not have the funds to buy breakfast, lunch, and dinner for almost a week.

She suggests that visitation should be open for the students who remain on campus to come together and celebrate Thanksgiving. George further expressed her belief that the university or student organizations can host events as they did during freshman week so students on campus aren’t forgotten.

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Though visitation will not be available for the rest of the semester, various campus organizations such as Howard University International Pals will be hosting a ‘friendsgiving’ on Nov. 17. 

Fathia Oladipupo is a nutritional sciences major with a double minor in biology and chemistry, from Osun State, Nigeria. She is an active member of Howard University’s MSA (Muslim Student Association), which she says “gave me a community because I was back home and it didn’t feel like I was in school. I just felt like I was watching videos every day, logging in and logging out, then doing a bunch of assignments. It made me feel like maybe I was in college.” 

Oladipupo expressed that her last two Thanksgiving breaks were very isolated because she didn’t celebrate the holiday and she didn’t have a roommate. Her plans for this year differ from her norm. 

“This year is the first year and the last year that I’m not alone,” Oladipupo said as she explained that she would be spending time with a friend she met over the summer who is visiting her. Though Oladipupo has a friend visiting her, she says she still misses the rest of her family. 

“I think I just miss my family in general. I think people do not grasp the fact that our families are miles away and we haven’t seen them for years because it’s so expensive,” she explained. Oladipupo is visiting her family in December for the first time in three years. “It cost me all of my savings, but when I think about seeing my family, it is definitely worth it.”

Copy edited by Whitney Meritus 

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