Winter break: What students do when the campus closes

Students find fun, educational alternatives to heading home for the holidays

Photo/Mike Lovett
Photos/Susan Lebovits

ShiYu Wang, MA student and Yifei Sun '14

While many suitcases were pulled along South Street last week as students headed home for the holidays, many are remaining on or around campus — at least for part of the three- to six-week winter break. For students who live across the country, or in many cases, a different country, distance and finances can play a large role in determining how the end of December and the beginning of the New Year is spent. Many embrace the winter break as an oppotunity to explore the United States and enjoy time with extended family and friends.

“I think that this time of year can sometimes be hard,” says Emily Stewart, department coordinator at the International Students and Scholar’s Office. “Most of the undergraduates go home but many cannot. They’re also limited as to what they can do; they can work on campus if there is a job for them, but not off campus, unless they’ve applied for a work authorization.”

Currently 286 of Brandeis undergraduates, and 746 graduate students, hail from outside the U.S.

“Since most services, like dining and the Brandeis shuttles, are closed over winter break, these students are pretty much on their own,” says Greg Jones, assistant director of Operations and Off-Campus Housing. “All students staying on campus have access to the same support networks - peer mentors, the Counseling Center, and for international students, the ISSO. “Many students, says Jones, find support from their peer groups and friends."

But not going home does not mean not having fun. It often means connecting with peers and bonding in ways that don't present themselves during the hectic school year.

ShiYu Wang, a graduate student in biology from Shanghai, and Yifei Sun ’14, from Beijing, are two international students who will not be heading home during the winter break.

“It’s OK with me because I am in contact with my mother every day through MSN,” says Wang. “We can see each other online, so it’s pretty good.”

Despite the 13-hour difference, the mother and daughter make their virtual time together work.

During the break Wang will head to Pennsylvania to visit her aunt, uncle and cousin to celebrate Christmas, then she will take part in Vision 2011 in Washington D.C., a Christian conference for international students sponsored by Bridges International.

“Being Christian doesn’t mean that you have to go to church every Sunday,” says Wang. “You just keep the relationship between you and god.”

Wang says that religion is more prominent in the United States than in China, where politics are woven into the sermons. When she returns from Washington, Wang will begin to search for a summer internship.

“Before I came to Brandeis I knew that I liked the field of biotechnology, but was not sure which direction to take - research or company,” says Wang. “I decided to start with a master’s degree that looks at pharmaceutics, new drug design.”

Wang says it’s not the times that she is alone that she misses her family the most, but rather when she has accomplished something that she’s proud of.

“I can’t call them because they might be asleep!” she says.

Sun is studying art history and business. The sophomore says that she has fallen in love with Boston. Although she flew back to China last winter break, she says she is excited about remaining in the United States this year.

“It’s such a sweet, warm city,” says Sun. who relishes the old architecture around Beantown.

Sun and her roommates will head to New York City to experience Times Square on New Year's Eve.

“I come from China, so I’m not afraid of crowds!” says Sun.

She will also make her first trip to the West Coast and visit friends who attend college in Berkley, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

Does she miss her family during the holiday season, knowing that most of Brandeis classmates are with their families?

“Most of the time I’m very independent and take care of myself,” says Sun, who attended boarding high school in China. “When I’m out with my friends or studying, I don’t miss them as much. It's when I’m going through something difficult that I miss them.”

Last summer Sun flew solo to India to work with Love Volunteers, a non-profit based out of London. She taught English and math to underprivileged children in Jaipur.

“The month in India changed me a lot,” says Sun. “You always need to depend on yourself.”

Categories: Student Life

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