Fall semester passes you by in a whirlwind of new friendships and ridiculous workloads. Before you know it, in a blink of an eye, it’s finals week and the stress you’ve felt all semester rises gradually for one final, monumental, unparalleled crescendo before the eventual bow. As an international student, it may be impractical to go all the way back home afterward—often journeys of over 24 hours for some of us—just for three weeks. It’s hard not to feel left out when the majority of conversation on campus revolves around home-bound departure dates and plans to meet old friends and family. However, staying on campus for the break has turned out to be a unique experience that I would not have wanted to miss out on.
Moving away from home to college in itself is a massive step toward living independently. However, it goes a step further during the winter break as the dining options on campus are relatively limited. All of a sudden, you’re thrown into a world where budgeting for, buying, and cooking food are priority. This calls for a considerable amount of improvisation, often for the smallest of things, as living “the broke life” becomes the order of the day, as your daily routine begins to revolve around meals.
Get a head start on studies
Apart from this, due to the abundance of time on your hands, there are several things you can do that you may not have been able to do had you gone back home for the break. For instance, try learning a language. I’ve spent hours engrossed in the Spanish translation of The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, in an attempt to get more comfortable with the language course I’ll be taking next semester. This can help save you a ton of time in the semester ahead—something that can prove to be invaluable, as time can be a scarce resource in college.
Prepare for next semester
The break is also a great time to de-stress, catch up on sleep, and organize your thoughts for the semester ahead, all of which is not entirely likely to happen if you go back home, as you’ll have people to meet and things to do. Further, it is also the perfect time to scourge the websites of your subjects of interest and find professors to reach out to in search of research opportunities on campus, thereby getting the legwork out of the way. Speaking of legwork, you could also try hitting the gym, as it is relatively empty. There’s just something mildly amusing about living out that New Year’s resolution cliché of getting fit.
Make new friends
Most importantly, find a friend who is also staying back for the break and move in together. No matter how much of an introvert you are, you’ll need company at some point. If you’re lucky, like I was, a close friend of yours will elect to stay back too. If not, the break is the perfect opportunity to expand your horizons and make a solid, diverse friend group.
See the sights
Finally, travel. Plan a trip. Upstate New York is a gorgeous place to travel, if you’re prepared to tackle the cold. If you’re feeling adventurous like we were, you could execute a four- or five-day budget Air BNB trip to New York City for much cheaper than a round-trip flight ticket back home—something that a lot of the students who stayed over break ended up doing. The key is to plan it all out in advance, with just enough room to improvise to keep it interesting.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it and say that it’s all rainbows and butterflies. There will be times when you will regret not booking that flight ticket home as pictures of your old friends hanging out together materialize on your Facebook feeds, or videos of New Year’s Eve celebrations emerge on Snapchat. Some days will be hard. But overall, it is definitely an experience I would recommend, especially when you have nothing to lose and a lot to learn.