The gift of time: International students travel in lieu of turkey

Imagine: thousands of miles from home, you witness a country celebrating a holiday you don’t recognize and find yourself with a week free of classes.

Butler University’s international student community faces this challenge as the campus heads toward Thanksgiving Break next week.

Many international students will not have the opportunity to spend the break with their families like their American peers will. Instead, a great deal of them will be making the most of the break by traveling and experiencing the best of what their host country has to offer.

“Usually, they want to take as much time as they can to travel around the United States,” said Hillary Zorman, international student services associate director.

Zorman said many international students choose to tour iconic cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Miami.

While Thanksgiving tourism isn’t as traditional to Americans as turkey and stuffing, international students see it as a great opportunity, especially if they’re only here for a semester.

“Since we don’t really celebrate anything, all we do is take advantage of the holiday traveling,” said junior Sara Naama, a Libyan transfer student from Spain.

“My father and I are going to Texas to visit my cousin, and then we’re going to go to Vegas.”

International exchange students who come to Butler for a semester often use every possible opportunity the see the country. Therefore, traveling is likely their first preference during breaks.

“I feel like a lot of them already come over to study here with ideas of where they want to go,” said junior Laura Hoffman, a diversity ambassador. “They all come with their pre-set places of where they want to visit.”

Senior Ivana Ignacio, an international exchange student from Curaçao, said a group of international students is traveling across the western United States,  staying in San Diego for two days, then taking a bus to Los Angeles for two days and finally visiting Las Vegas for three-and-a-half days before returning to Indianapolis.

“I’ve been to Vegas before, but I was 15 and with my parents,” Ignacio said. “I just turned 21 a few weeks ago, so it’ll be nice to go.”

There’s more flexibility for permanent international students, who come to Butler for upwards of four years.

Some of the permanent students stay on campus for Thanksgiving Break to study, while others return to the homes of family members scattered throughout the United States.

“I know another exchange student who is traveling to Boston for the week since he has family there and is in search of a possible internship for after the semester ends,” said junior Hayley Jones, a diversity ambassador. “Others have family right near Indianapolis and will stay with them over the break.”

Some international students even choose to go home with American friends who live around the Midwest. This way they have the opportunity to experience a holiday many of them know little about.

“I always think it’s great when they go home with an American friend and celebrate Thanksgiving because, a lot of the time, it’s something that they’ve never done before,” Zorman said.

“Last year, a couple of the exchange students actually went to my family’s house and celebrated Thanksgiving with me.”

Though many international students do not traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving, they find comfort in celebrating the unfamiliar together.

“It’s difficult because we don’t really mix that much with American students,” Naama said. “So we don’t know that much about Thanksgiving.

“We international students are like a big family, so we enjoy it and spend the time together.”

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