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U.S Colleges Host International Students Over Winter Break : Prospective international students should review schools’ options for accommodations during holidays.
During the winter break, some U.S. universities provide free or fee-based housing and dining options for international students. (Hero Images/ Getty Images)
Last winter, as students headed home for the holidays and U.S. universities closed for winter break, Chinese national Yaoqin Tang chose to remain on campus at Castleton University in Vermont. The school’s winter break policy allowed her to stay at her residence hall at no extra cost and use the hall kitchen to cook meals.
For prospective international students who plan to study in the U.S., going home for winter break may not be in their plans. Researching institutions’ winter break policies before applying can help them choose a school that meets their needs.
Although schools shut down for winter break, some U.S. universities are working on ways to accommodate and feed international students during this time as well as help them enjoy the academic reprieve.
• Winter break housing: At some universities, international students can remain on campus during winter break, but schools may charge a fee.
For example, at Michigan State University, when international students receive their initial housing assignment, they can also sign up for between-semester housing and dining. This allows them to stay in their room over the holiday break. Students who live in three specific residence halls are charged a $315 flat fee, which includes the accommodations and dining, while those who live in other residence facilities may stay without applying, according to the school’s website.
Marian A. Bankins, associate director of residential and community living at the University of California—Santa Barbara’s Housing, Dining & Auxiliary Enterprises, says that when international students apply for housing, they can sign up for winter break housing for an additional $300.
“We have expanded the number of residence halls communities to accommodate the need. We have consistently had at least 100 students take advantage of break housing,” says Bankins. UCSB provides resident assistants and professional live-in staff for break periods who are mainly there for safety and security measures, she says.
Like Castleton, other schools provide winter break housing at no extra charge.
“Some of our halls and dining facilities are open during breaks, and Oregon State does offer break housing to all of our current residents at no additional charge,” says Kimberly Lamke Calderon, marketing and communications director for international programs at Oregon State University.
• On-campus meals: Some schools provide limited meal service with one or a few dining halls open during winter break, and they may charge an additional fee.
Michigan State students who live in three specific residence halls receive their dining plan as part of their between-semester housing arrangements. Those residing in other university housing have the option to purchase the between-semester dining plan for $167.20, which includes 30 accesses to two dining facilities, according to the school’s website.
“We want our residents, including our international student population, to feel comfortable and safe if they choose to stay with us over winter break,” Ray Gasser, executive director of Michigan State’s Residence Education and Housing Services, said via email.
Calderon says the dining team at Oregon State “plans special holiday meals, though overall service is more limited during that time.” And there’s no additional charge, says Jennifer Vina, associate director of marketing and communications for Oregon State’s University Housing & Dining Services.
Last winter break, Vietnamese national Tuong Hoang stayed in the Oregon State residential halls and frequented open dining halls but says she also cooked for herself or visited local restaurants.
Cooking is also an option at some universities where dining halls are closed. Tang and her friends took advantage of this at Castleton. The university offers a bus service into town for grocery shopping as well as break kits, which include everything from pots and pans to silverware, for students to use at the residence hall kitchen.
• Holiday events: Some universities arrange events for international students during winter break. And frequently the international student body coordinates these activities.
“Our main program to accommodate international students over the winter break is our host family program,” says Irvin Brown, who is from the Bahamas and is president of the International Student Organization at the College of Idaho.
The program matches international students with faculty and other volunteers who serve as hosts and aims to give students an American holiday experience, says Jen Nelson, director of residence life and associate dean of students at the school.
Nelson says the International Student Organization, with support from the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Engagement, also plans various other events like movies, ice skating, bowling and a visit to the local botanical garden’s Winter Garden aGlow display. The botanical garden event “has sometimes been a student’s first opportunity to see snow,” she says.
Kristie Feist, assistant director for academic initiatives and student engagement at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities’ Housing and Residential Life department, says in anticipation of many international students remaining on campus, they send the students special invitations and messages about planned events. She says past events have included Christmas and New Year’s holiday meals, sporting events, board games, movies and ice skating.
Last winter break, Castleton matched Tang with a local host family. Tang says she spent five days, including Christmas, with her hosts and got to ski, ice skate and go sledding.
“I’m so excited about this winter break because I will celebrate Christmas with my host family again,” says Tang.
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