Originally published in the Fall 2020 print issue.
By Ure Okike
The holidays are fast approaching and students who spent the semester on campus are getting ready to go home to be with family and friends. Thanksgiving Break marks the shift to complete remote learning for all students enrolled at Principia. After the break the entire student body will be finishing the last weeks of the fall semester from the comfort of their bedrooms. However, not all students will be going home. Every year, Principia hosts students who rather spend their break on campus, and most of those who remain at the college are international students.
International students are used to the idea that they will not always return to their home countries on holidays for a variety of reasons, with the cost of travel being chief among them.
“The flights to my country are too expensive,” says junior Joey Onyechi, from Nigeria. “Also, I can’t leave because…my visa has expired. I would go home to renew it, but COVID would make it hard to return to the States to study at Prin.”
This year, the pandemic interrupted many long-awaited trips back home. A lot of borders remain closed to international travel, and students run the risk of being unable to return to school should they leave the United States.
“I wanted to go home this summer, but COVID,” says junior Noela Nandy, from Kenya.
The pandemic has considerably limited the options for international students at Principia. During normal academic years, international students have opted to stay at the college to work as their visas only allow them to work on campus. Yet there are usually some options, though limited, as to how international students can spend their time. Some opt to spend a few weeks with friends or family they have in the United States or to visit with a host family for a while. Regardless, holidays are usually a trying time for international students.
“When you are, in some cases, thousands of miles away from your family, it is particularly during the holiday that you feel a sense of disconnection,” says David Njau, director of the International Students Programs and Services Office.
With the pandemic making travel back and forth unsafe, that option of visiting friends is removed. Njau was once an international student at Principia himself and understands the support that international students need when they feel far from home.
“[Our office] is very aware of [the difficulties], and that’s why we always find creative ways of providing a sense of family, belonging, and connection,” he says.
Sometimes international students are invited by host families to spend all or part of the holidays with them, and during most breaks there are “cook-ins” where students staying at Gehner come together for a home-cooked meal. It is a relief to the students, most of whom spend their days performing various jobs on campus.
“Last year we had a parent who cooked a delicious meal for students who were on campus at Thanksgiving,” Njau says. “It wasn’t just about the food, it was the socializing, the laughing, talking, dancing and the home-like sense of it.”
Campus-wide COVID guidelines will change that this year. With restrictions and guidelines on gatherings on campus, social events and get-togethers are either prohibited or heavily modified. The extent to which these “home-like” gatherings could take place is very much in question.
Nevertheless, the International Programs and Services Office is going to do its best to meet the need of students who might be missing home and a sense of family during the holidays.
“The desire to have something that feels like home and family is still there,” says Njau.