Finding a home for the holidays away from home


by Kelsey Christianson

As the holiday season quickly approaches, most students are looking forward to getting away from campus and spending a few weeks at home.

Many take advantage of living relatively close to home, but for some students it’s not that easy.

According to Walter Lain, the assistant dean for multicultural and international affairs, Simpson College educates 35 international students from 13 different countries.

“They have all been assigned host families so they can feel some connection with a family here,” Lain said. “It can be stressful around a holiday period to not see family.”

International students are allowed to stay in their campus dorm or apartment over break without a fee, but since Pfeiffer Dining Hall and the Storm Street Grill are closed over break, they must buy their own food or eat with their host families.

Senior Om Gurung is one of 10 students from Nepal who are currently studying at Simpson.

A plane ticket home would cost Gurung at least $1,700.

Because of this steep price and traveling downfalls such as going through processing and security, Gurung hasn’t been home since coming to the United States.

“I miss my family, but I talk to my mom and dad on the phone each week,” Gurung said.

Instead of spending the holiday by himself, he spends it with his host family.

“I usually get two to four invitations, but I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas Day with the John Bolen family,” Gurung said.

To keep from getting bored over Christmas break, Gurung plans on visiting his cousin in Chicago and working off campus.

Senior Marcin Wojtczak of Poland and junior Mihai Birsescu of Romania have flown home for Christmas each year, but they don’t go home over Thanksgiving break.

“It’s an American holiday, so we don’t celebrate it,” Wojtczak said. “It’s a nice holiday, it just doesn’t mean anything to us.”

For Wojtczak a round-trip airplane ticket to Poland would cost at least $600.

“That would be a pretty expensive trip for six days,” Wojtczak said.

Birsescu first came to Indianola as an exchange student in high school. After graduation, he decided to attend Simpson College. He enjoys Thanksgiving break despite not celebrating the holiday.

“To me, [Thanksgiving] means no school, eating a lot of food and watching TV,” Birsescu said.

Wojtczak and Birsescu went to Chicago for Thanksgiving break.

“A lot [of international students] try to use the break to go around our country and visit different places,” Lain said.

Although Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in other countries, Christmas generally is, so more international students take the long break to visit their families.

According to Wojtczak, the population of Poland is 96 percent Catholic, but there are noticeable differences in the way the two countries celebrate Christmas.

“American Christmas is more commercialized, based on consumption,” Wojtczak said. “We still have gifts, but stores don’t sell Christmas stuff in the middle of November.”

When Wojtczak goes home for Christmas, his family celebrates with a traditional meal. At dusk, after seeing the first star, Wojtczak and his family sit down to eat dinner on Christmas Eve. The meal consists of 12 dishes which represent the 12 disciples.