International Students Combat Homesickness, Embrace College Community Over Fall Break

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November 14, 2022

For domestic and international students alike, fall break comes as a welcome relief from rigorous academic work — it’s a time to recharge among loved ones. But while many domestic students do so from the comfort of their family homes, international students typically remain in Grinnell for the week-long break.

Staying behind while classmates reunite with family can intensify feelings of homesickness. Many international students find solace among friends facing similar situations — particularly students from their home country.

BRASA Conference Group Photo

Patrick Sales Garcia ’25, an international student from São Paulo, Brazil, leaned on other Brazilian students for comfort and community during the break.

“Over break, it was common for someone to just text our group chat like, ‘Where is everyone?’ and we would all meet up and hang out,” Garcia said. “Because we have such a big Brazilian community here, I don’t think I feel [homesickness] as much.”

Sales Garcia and Grinnell’s chapter of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) spent part of their break in Evanston, Illinois, at the annual BRASA conference. The group heard from Brazilian guest speakers, participated in workshops, and spent plenty of time exploring the Chicago area.

“This year’s theme was protagonism, so it was very self-focused — all about being your own protagonist. It was just super cool,” Sales Garcia said.

The importance of travel to enrich school breaks is a sentiment shared by many international students. Bowen Wei ’24 from Zhengzhou, China, is a rare international student at Grinnell with a car. This fall break, he used his car to take friends on excursions to Des Moines and Iowa City.

“If you stay indoors, you’ll be more homesick,” Wei said. “Get a friend and take the break to see new places.”

Verda Karaoglu ’25, from Izmir, Turkey, was among Wei’s travel companions. While visiting Iowa City, Karaoglu got a taste of its nightlife and music scene.

“As an international student, I naturally don’t have access to a lot of these cool places because I just don’t know about them. And I have no way of knowing them unless I talk to someone from Iowa,” she said. “So break was a good opportunity to explore Iowa, for sure.”

Aside from their travels, Sales Garcia, Wei, and Karaoglu also found joy in the “little things” that Grinnell had to offer during their time in town.

For Wei, that was enjoying food from local Chinese-American restaurant, Chuong’s Garden.

Karaoglu felt that the break allowed her to bond with other international students on campus, watching movies and catching up.

“There was a lot of international bonding time. The international group was very strong,” Karaoglu said.

pumpkin carving

Sales Garcia took advantage of on-campus events held by the Office of International Student Affairs, such as carving pumpkins with his friends and their host families.

Regardless of how they spent their break, Grinnell’s international students made one thing clear: having a community to lean on is essential.

“The thing with homesickness is that you cannot expect to simply forget your home,” Sales Garcia said. “You have to adapt yourself to the new place and find people … that’s what makes you go for it and it’s what pushes you forward. Like with the Brazilians here, I still get to talk Portuguese almost every day, which is great.”

And as a bonus, break is a great time to get closer to the international community. Karaoglu recommends taking full advantage.

“Use this time as an opportunity to bond with other internationals because you don’t really get to do that during the school year. If you have other people from your country, this might be a time to like, cook together like some traditional meals,” she said. “It’s nice to find that community.”

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