January 25, 2007

Int'l Students Spend Holidays in Ithaca

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While many students take for granted the ability to drive home after finishing exams, international students at Cornell are often not granted the opportunity.

Held back by either high airline costs or visa issues, many instead use the time to travel, explore or stay around Ithaca without the stress of exams and papers.

Barbara Rojas, an astronomy graduate student originally from Chile, used her break to visit friends in Paris and explore the French countryside.

“It is really expensive to fly home,” Rojas said, who nonetheless waited until January to find cheap tickets to fly back to Chile for a short period of time.

Others, such as Mengqiao Wang, a biochemistry graduate student who traveled to New York City, had the opportunity to stay in Ithaca but decided against it.

“When most students go back home during winter break, Ithaca is to some extent like a ghost town,” Wang said.

Rojas agrees: “Here it is too cold, and everything closes much earlier.”
However, not all share the sentiment. Yeogeun Kim, an Asian studies graduate student enjoyed staying in Ithaca and even its lack of inhabitants during that time.

“You will meet the same people every day, and they recognize you easily since [there are] not many people [that stay around],” Kim said.

While graduate students are afforded the opportunity to stay on-campus during winter break, most undergraduate students are not.

According to Mary Schlarb, assistant director of the international students and scholars office, undergraduate students wishing to remain in Ithaca over winter break must display “extreme need” in order to be given a place on campus at the Holland International Living Center over winter break.
Approximately 45 students took advantage of this opportunity, according to Windi Sasaki, residence hall director of HILC.

Extreme need includes lack of means to pay for flights back home, visa and immigration issues that do not allow students to travel easily or other extenuating circumstances that are evaluated via application. The exception to this rule is students already living in HILC, who are allowed to remain in their rooms during winter break regardless of need, which costs $475.00 for all students who choose to stay. American students too, can take advantage of this if they are able to provide good reasons.

For students staying in HILC, an R.A. on duty organizes at least one program per week that involves students in a common activity.

Those who stick around may choose to work on campus, which may be their only option, as working off-campus requires work authorization that may take several months. Others may choose to do an internship for credit. Sasaki says that many prefer to stay because of jobs or research on campus.

“Many like Ithaca without homework. It ends up being very convenient and relaxing,” Sasaki said.

Nonetheless, Schlarb says that the majority of students do end up flying home if they are able to. Varun Parthasarathy, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student was able to meet President Skorton in his hometown of Hyderabad, India.

“For an international student like me, meeting the President of Cornell located miles away in Upstate New York … does not happen every day. It was just fabulous. I had no words,” Parthasarathy said.

Others with less thrilling adventures choose to fly back for the sake of being home at least once a year.

“I had the option to visit the city and travel a bit, but the semester had taken a lot out of me,” said Rohit Agarwalla, a computer science graduate student.