For many Lehigh students, Thanksgiving and winter breaks represent times of homecoming, an opportunity to reunite with family and celebrate the holidays. For others, such as international students, these breaks, though challenging, offer chances to connect with the Lehigh community and campus programs.
According to the Office of International Students and Scholars webpage, Lehigh is home to approximately 1,000 international students, with around half being undergraduates and the other half being graduate students. This population constitutes 16% of Lehigh’s total student body.
Amanda Connolly, the office’s director, said though there is always variety in what international students choose to do over breaks, there has been a gradual change in trends.
She said most graduate students stay on campus, at least for Thanksgiving break, and the number of undergraduate students who have stayed on campus has been greater in the last couple years.
International travel has yet to return back to complete normalcy since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some difficulties that arise with travel have deterred many students from returning home during the school year.
Connolly said before the pandemic, Chinese students at Lehigh would have returned home for winter break. The Chinese government, however, still has strict COVID-19 policies, with few recent changes.
“The whole process of getting to China is still really hard,” Connolly said. “And for them to only be gone for a month just does not make sense for them right now.”
The reality for many international students, then, involves remaining on campus during breaks.
Christina D’Aversa, associate director of Housing Services, said her office, among others, remains active in its operations throughout the breaks in order to serve international students who stay at Lehigh.
“The ability to host students in on-campus housing during break periods is a university-wide effort,” D’Aversa said. “Without the support of many different offices including LUPD, Facilities, International Students and Scholars, and Residence Life, we would not be able to offer housing during these break times.”
Partnerships between different Lehigh offices also create and hold activities for international students throughout break times.
Connolly said the Office of International Students and Scholars tried to work with Taylor Gym and the International Center for Academic and Professional English to hold a yoga class over winter break last year. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the class could not be held, but Connolly is hopeful it can happen this year, along with other similar activities.
“What we really try to do is make sure that we’re gonna have at least one thing happening every week during the winter break,” Connolly said. “And we also try to encourage students to not just stay on campus but explore and see what’s going on in the community.”
Secil Sozuer, ’22G, from Istanbul, Turkey, said Bethlehem in mid-December and January is very cold, an element of the break season that can make staying at Lehigh less than ideal.
“It is so easy to have winter blues,” Sozuer said. “Especially for people who are coming from countries that have milder and shorter winters.”
Sozuer agreed that partnerships and events that different programs offer over breaks are beneficial for students like her.
She is appreciative that the Office of International Students and Scholars had events such as Christmas lights at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, ice skating and board game nights. The Graduate Life Office and Graduate Student Outing Club also host events for graduate students like Sozuer to take advantage of.
“I joined the Graduate Student Outing Club around May, in order to make graduate students’ lives better and less isolated,” Sozuer said.
Connolly said getting involved, making connections and checking in on others is a way the Lehigh community can serve international students all of the time, not just during Thanksgiving, winter or spring breaks.
“Just reach out to those you know and stay connected with your peers,” Connolly said. “I think that’s super important, especially at this time of year when people can feel extra lonely.”