Confessions of a temporarily homeless international student

Requiring international students to vacate housing for spring break is unfair and costly


(Collegian File Photo)

By Bhavya Pant, Collegian Columnist

Spring break – the much-needed respite amidst the egregious monotony of midterms. The time of the year revered indiscriminately by college-goers across the continent. While most students, upon the mention of spring break, summon carefree thoughts and conjure up Google-Images-worthy scenes of frolicking masses at Daytona Beach, I find spring break to be rather inconvenient. Before you hastily peg me as a vacation-hating masochist, know that I love my summer and winter breaks. I brave nearly 22 hours of air travel, go through endless security checks and consume grossly unpalatable airplane food just to get back home. When I finally arrive at the Indra Gandhi International Airport and breathe in that familiar, toxic, Delhi air, it all seems worthwhile. Spring break, however, hits me – and the entire international student body at the University of Massachusetts – with a gigantic “conditions apply” asterisk.

Unlike the longer winter and summer breaks, the spring and Thanksgiving breaks at UMass are only a week long. Residential Life promptly boots students out on the first morning of the break. Unlike the in-state students, I cannot simply lug my belongings in the trunk of a car and be on my way. Neither can I, like the out-of-state students, catch a bus or a train ride home. Home for me is 7,000 miles away. For me to spend $700 dollars on airplane tickets to go back to India for a week – out of which I would spend two days travelling, one day robbed by a time difference and one day recuperating from jet lag – just doesn’t make sense. The alternative Residential Life offers is temporary housing in Sylvan Residential Area at the “irresistible” price of $600 dollars. Of the 52 dorms at UMass, only five offer yearlong housing, two of which are in Sylvan and North Apartments (which aren’t exactly the most sought-after places to live on campus.) These housing options too add an additional $600  to your annual bill.

As an international student, I already pay $20,000 dollars more in annual tuition fees than an in-state student. This is not including the $200 dollars UMass charges me in the name of “International Student Services.” All this, one would think, should earn me the right to not get kicked out of my dorm for every seven-day break that presents itself. That, unfortunately, is not the case.

So, every spring and Thanksgiving break, while others eagerly pack their luggage and conveniently dump it into their cars, I fret over finding affordable, weeklong shelter. I’ve often been lucky in the past, as friends and relatives have been kind enough to host me. Not everyone, however, can say the same. I’m often asked, “why don’t you just vacation in Florida like most others do?” While that is an effective way to spend seven days off-campus, it does not come easy on the pocket. Simply put, vacationing – the hotels, the food, the transportation – is an expensive affair and like many international students, I’m not exactly sitting on a pot of gold, which is plainly exemplified by the fact that one George Washington-faced dollar bill counts for around 65 of Gandhi’s faces on Indian rupees. Any money I do save, I put toward more productive avenues, like my study abroad fund.

Moreover, this phenomenon of evacuating students during weeklong breaks seems to be unique to UMass. The University of Connecticut, University of Pittsburgh and Boston University all keep their residence halls open throughout spring and Thanksgiving breaks. Providence College closes its halls but makes an exception for international students and student athletes at no additional cost. UMass already offers break housing in five of its dorms; I don’t see why it can’t extend that facility to all its dorms without adding to the students’ financial burden. Besides, dining services are already functional during breaks (even though hours and locations are reduced,) so feeding the students won’t be an added obstacle.

UMass boasts a multi-national student body representing over 70 countries. By letting international students stay in their dorms over spring and Thanksgiving breaks, the University would give them one less thing to worry about.

Bhavya Pant is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]