International students face holiday dilemma

Freshman Abdullah Al Nasser points out his home country of Saudi Arabia to graduate student Hannah Rowe, senior administrative assistant of the Office of International Affairs. Al Nasser is one of the international students who does not go home during holiday breaks.

When holiday breaks arrive, the campus closes and students are able to go home and spend time with family and friends.

However, while some international students go home and visit their families in their home countries, some stay behind in America and find other activities to partake in during the holidays.

“It can be sad for them, because it’s expensive to go home,” said graduate student Hannah Rowe, senior administrative assistant of the Office of International Affairs.

Rowe said the office tries to get the students involved with a host family or local holiday events, which can help them feel less homesick.

Graduate student Lina Barragán, a worker in the Office of International Affairs, came to America from Colombia in 2011 for her master’s degree.

“The people are really, really nice,” she said. “I was used to living in a big city where nobody had any time for anything. Then, here, I came to a more conservative place.”

Barragán said when she first arrived in the U.S., she could not go home for around two years because of Visa rules.

“It was really sad because we celebrate Christmas,” she said. “It’s a huge, huge holiday. It was the first Christmas I was away from home. So, I was so depressed, even though I was with people.”

Colombia’s Christmas differs from the U.S. by being more of a festive celebration.

Barragán said she spent her first Christmas in the U.S. with her then-boyfriend and his family. The next year, her parents were able to come up for the holiday.

She now visits her family more often and texts her mother every day.

She said Thanksgiving is not as big of a deal because it is an American-only holiday.

“It’s nice when people invite you to their house because it’s just opening their doors to strangers, and it’s a gathering for family that you feel really, really welcome (at),” she said. “But, if nobody invites you to anything, it’s fine, because you don’t really celebrate it.”

Freshman Abdullah Al Nasser came to UNA in 2015 after graduating high school in Saudi Arabia to get his bachelor’s degree.

Al Nasser said after coming to UNA, he was happy to learn about American culture, including its holidays.

“(The holidays) are so cool,” he said. “The first year I attended the Christmas holiday, I loved it. I love how people give presents to someone, and they welcome people to come to their house.”

Al Nasser said the family he has visited in the Shoals since he came to America is like family to him.

He joins the family every year for Thanksgiving. For Christmas, he spends the break either with them or friends.

“I feel like I am with my mom and dad when I (spend a holiday) with them,” he said.

Al Nasser said he has gotten better about being homesick since arriving in America. He keeps in touch with his family every day through FaceTime, but hopes they get to visit him for the holidays one year.

Rowe said she encourages the rest of campus to get involved with international students by reaching out to them during the holidays.

“There are benefits on both sides,” she said. “You are helping (an) international student find a home away from home during this time to just relax and celebrate with a family. They’ll have a sense of belonging and a sense of family. As an American student, you’re getting this opportunity to say, ‘Hey, what do you do in your home country?’ It’s a time to have a cultural exchange.”