International students at Illinois spend spring break exploring America

By Bonnie Stiernberg

This time of the year, many students look forward to escaping the daily grind and heading home for a week. What if home is all the way on the other side of the globe?

For many international students studying at the University, one week isn’t enough time to make the trek back home. Instead, many use the time as an opportunity to see more of America.

Sarah Gleisner, an outreach coordinator at the Study Abroad Office and advisor of International Illini, said many international students are eager to explore.

“They usually have a list of places they want to see,” she said. “A lot of international students will go on a road trip or go visit friends or relatives in the U.S.”

That’s the plan for Kathleen O’Kelly-Kennedy, junior in AHS and a native of Melbourne, Australia. This spring break, O’Kelly-Kennedy will be visiting her boyfriend in Georgia, a part of the country she hasn’t seen before.

“In the past we’ve kind of hung around campus for a bit and then tried to get up to Chicago for a while,” O’Kelly-Kennedy said. “We haven’t really been anywhere outside of Illinois.”

Ke-Li Cheng, sophomore in Business from Taiwan, will be traveling to San Francisco with family this spring break. Cheng said her parents encourage her to travel over her breaks.

“With all the international students I know, our parents think that if we’re in the States, it’s better to explore,” she said.

Gleisner said she believes exploring America is a great way for international students to get to know their host country.

“For them, to go to the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building is the perfect way to spend their spring break,” she said. “Most of the students I talk to have ideas of what they’d like to do.”

While O’Kelly-Kennedy and Cheng both plan on traveling this spring break, they have different ideas about what would make an ideal trip.

“I’d love to do the spring break that I’ve seen in the movies,” O’Kelly-Kennedy said. “I’d love to go to the beach, somewhere warm.”

Cheng, on the other hand, said she tries to avoid the typical tourist activities when she visits new cities.

“I’ve already been to most of the big cities,” she said. “The problem for me is the things I would want to see aren’t usually covered by the tour guides. I’m actually more interested in things normal Americans would want to do.”

One major concern for international students like O’Kelly-Kennedy is the cost of an American vacation.

“When you’re an international student, it’s quite expensive, and it’s quite difficult to find flights and all that,” O’Kelly-Kennedy explained. “We try to keep it as cheap as possible.”

Gleisner suggests looking online for inexpensive flights or finding a group on campus that can offer a cheaper alternative.

“Get involved with student organizations,” she said. “A lot of student organizations have trips over break.”

She added that it’s not too late for international students to plan a spring break trip.

“We had some students from the U.K. last year who decided at the very last minute to go to Hawaii, and they were able to pull it together and spend their spring break on the beach.”