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Students Not Home for the Holidays - 2001-12-25


Every year more than one-half million university students from around the world study in America. During their winter recess, some of them travel overseas to visit their families for the holidays. But with the September 11 attacks, some international students are hesitant about flying home.

Just a few days before the winter break at Boston College, students at the school's cafeteria are catching a quick bite to eat and talking about their plans for the end of the year holidays. About 5 per cent of the students come from 100 other nations. For many of them, a trip back to their home countries during the school year is too costly. So, when classes are not in session, they usually stay on campus or visit friends.

During the recent Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November, Assistant Dean Adrienne Nussbaum said most of the school's international students celebrated the day in American homes. "For Thanksgiving," she said, "we have a Thanksgiving host family program where we have faculty and administrators on campus, who volunteer to take international students home. We matched quite a few international students this year with hosts. They went to homes and were able to experience a traditional American holiday."

Assistant Dean Adrienne Nussbaum said this year, Boston College is being flexible about staying on campus for international students who aren't able to visit their homes during the winter recess. "We don't ordinarily allow students to stay on campus during the holiday break," she said. "But I've spoken with the housing office and they're making exceptions, considering the circumstances."

Ms. Nussbaum says Boston College makes a special effort to help first-year students through the recess and the rest of the year. "We have an elaborate peer advisor program for first year international students, called the 'International Assistants program,'" she said. "I have 65 international students who are matched with and serve as peer advisors for them during their entire first year of the program. I imagine they'll have their international students visit them over the Christmas break. If there is an issue of where the international students needed to go [for housing], the 'I.A.'s would offer them to come visit over the break."

A native of Columbia, Mauricio Soto is a research assistant at Boston College's Center for Retirement Studies. Mr. Soto said he is used to staying in the United States during the winter break. "I came here in 1998 and I've only been back once," ha said. "I'm from a violent country, so security is a big issue for me. To go there for two weeks, pay for a very expensive ticket, and worry what's going on - it's usually better for someone from my family to come here."

Chaiaki Kotori, from Japan, is studying education at Boston College. She said the September 11 attacks on America have created both incentives as well as worries about travelling to her home country. She said, "They're saying the airfare [prices] are good this year. But I don't know - I personally feel a little reluctant to travel in general."

Another school in Boston, the Berklee College of Music, has the largest percentage of undergraduate students from outside the United States - about 40 percent representing more than 70 countries. Many of the Berklee international students seem to regard the winter recess as a chance to catch up on practicing their musical instruments or making contacts in the entertainment industry.

Juri Shigeta, a piano major from Japan, is developing programs to bring music education to prisons. She said she will visit the West Coast. She said, "I'm planning to go to L. A. and hopefully Seattle, and Phoenix during the break. But I might have a concert, a New Year's Eve gig [in Boston]. One of my friends works in a studio in L. A. He's a 'rockster,' - a rock star in Japan. He works at a studio and a lot of his friends from Berklee moved to L. A. to study. I want to meet them during the break."

Another Berklee College student, Koran Hasanagic comes from Bosnia-Herzegovina. He said he will use the winter recess to mix music study with socializing, but plans to stay in Boston. He said, "I'm going to try to spend more time with schoolwork and try to work on music a bit, and try to play more - use the time for that. I know some friends who are going to do the same thing, so we'll try to spend some time together."

Mr. Hasanagic said part of that time together will be sharing a festive American meal following the holiday tradition of a former housemate. "We had a roommate who was American," he said. He moved [away] this semester. He used to have a [holiday meal] tradition in the house, and he showed us how to fix a meal. So for a couple of years, we did that. Now that he's gone, we still keep the tradition. We learned how to do it, so we invite people from school and from different countries. We still do it, even though there aren't any Americans in the house anymore."

Koran Hasanagic, from Bosnia-Herzegovina, currently a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts is one of many international students in the city planning to stay on campus during the winter recess.

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