International students find home for the holidays

Foreign students discover new ways to spend American vacation time

The Spectrum

During Thanksgiving, winter and spring break, most UB students leave campus and go home. Campus Dining and Shops closes 35 shops. The Stampede follows the Sunday bus schedule. Students in non-break housing are mandated to leave their dorms, and those staying in break housing must pay a fee for staying during winter and spring break.

The 5,500-plus international students whose homes are thousands of miles away from UB are, for the most part, on their own during breaks.

Many international students who are on student visas use their time during break to see various American cities and parts of Eastern Canada.

Chinatsu Matsui, a junior economics major from Japan and president of the Japanese Student Association, spent her first Thanksgiving break in Chicago watching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, eating authentic Chicago food, indulging in shopping and visiting museums.

Kaori Fujimoto, a junior international business major from Japan, went to four museums in Washington, D.C. for her first Thanksgiving break in 2010. That year, she spent winter break touring New York City - visiting Wall Street, watching Mama Mia on Broadway and going to the Statue of Liberty - and will be returning this Thanksgiving.

Matsui said when she goes back to Japan, she won't have a chance to travel like this again.

Matsui is looking forward to this Thanksgiving. She's deciding between going back to Chicago, one of her new favorite cities, or visiting Montreal.

Other international students are looking forward to experiencing the American Thanksgiving with friends.

Harsh Agarwal, a sophomore computer science major from India, is spending his second Thanksgiving in America at a dinner table with his internship supervisor. Last year, he went to another friend's house. He said his family in India rarely celebrates holidays, and he had few family dinners with them in general.

"I felt really happy [last Thanksgiving]," Agarwal said. "I felt like I had a family of my own for that one day."

Kevan Darmawan, a freshman mechanical engineering major from Indonesia, is looking forward to experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time. A friend from UB invited him to his home in Rochester for the extended weekend, so Darmawan won't have to stay in an area lounge.

"I always wondered what Thanksgiving was like, so it was a good thing he invited me," Darmawan said. "I appreciate it."

However, Matsui doesn't think UB gives international students who stay in Buffalo fair options.

Students who live in dorms are urged to leave during Thanksgiving, winter and spring break, according to senior associate director of Campus Living Michael Koziej.

All dorm residents must pay a fee during winter and spring break if they don't leave - even in the break-housing dorms in Red Jacket, Richmond, Clinton, Clement and Greiner.

A student in a non-break house can sleep on a cot in a closed lounge in one of the break areas for free during Thanksgiving break and $12 per night during winter and spring break, according to Koziej.

Students in break housing pay a daily rate if they stay, depending on their room size. A resident of a quad is billed $25 per day; a double is $29 per day; and a single, the most expensive, is $33 per day.

"The reality is we don't want you to stay during winter, spring or fall recess because we have very few staff available, resources available, there's just nothing for the university to support you while you're here," Koziej said.

Koziej said he realizes some students don't have the luxury to go home, and Campus Living designates break halls for those residents.

"And we will staff those buildings," he said. "But we can't do it for all 7,600 students who live on campus because then we'd have to keep a full staff."

Students must sign up in their area hall in advance, so staff knows how many students will stay in the dorms. If students sign up and do not stay, they will still be charged.

Matsui said as an international student, she pays about three times the cost residential students do. When she lived in a dorm during her freshman year, she paid about $9,000 in tuition and $3,000 for her dorm per semester. Her bill was about $12,000 - almost three times the amount of a residential student's bill.

"I think it's kind of expensive considering the dorm fee and they still charge extra to stay for the winter and spring break," Matsui said. "I understand winter break, but I don't really like they charge for the spring break because still the fee for the semester is really expensive."

Koziej explained the dorm rate was created based off the days students live there, not including holidays. Residence hall rates are based off staff, heating costs and other resources, and Campus Living does not expect students to stay on campus during breaks. That's why students must pay a daily rate - Campus Living must pay for the extra resources.

Campus is mostly shut down during breaks, but some international students will still be around - making their own memories in and around Buffalo.