International students find oppportunities on campus during thanksgiving break

There’s no place like home. But when home is thousands of miles away, sometimes it’s OK to put the trip off and relax a little in a different place. Instead of going home or going on vacation over Thanksgiving break, some international students at the University choose to stay on campus or participate in activities through various campus groups.

“Because the bulk of international students come from Asia … they don’t go home (over Thanksgiving break),” said Justin Tan, an international student from Singapore. “That’s too far and probably too expensive. So what they do if they are not going for (Thanksgiving) dinner, or not hanging out at friends’, they mostly go shopping on Black Friday,” he laughed.

Tan, senior in Engineering, is also the president of CU Internationals, a registered student organization that seeks to connect international students with American and Midwestern culture. Group members often take trips to surrounding areas, such as Champaign’s Curtis Orchard in September or a Covered Bridge Festival in Mansfield, Ind., in October.

A Thanksgiving dinner will be provided to the group, courtesy of the local Stone Creek Church, located at 2502 S. Race St., in Urbana.

“We pair students up with families, and then they get to experience Thanksgiving dinners,” Tan said. “We ask the church, and then the church will give us a bunch of names (of) families who are interested.”

This way, the students are able to stay on campus and still have a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day.

Other organizations on campus offer similar services both during and before Thanksgiving break, including the University YMCA at 1001 S. Wright St., in Champaign. Thursday at 5 p.m., the YMCA will have a Thanksgiving potluck, where everyone is welcome to bring a dish.

The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association, or the TCCA, is another international group geared toward international students. It is a nonprofit and volunteer-based, and the Tzu Chi organization has chapters in 47 different countries. At the University, student members are able to put their time into local causes they care about.

“We are actually going to Chicago on Thanksgiving,” said Shao Shen Ng, TCCA president and senior in Engineering.

During Thanksgiving break, members of the University TCCA plan to meet up with other TCCA college branches and share what ways they help their communities, Ng said.

Ng is an international student from Malaysia, and he has been volunteering since attending high school there. Once he came to college in America, he figured that he would continue. The TCCA has helped him become more accustomed to the culture here while he volunteers his time.

To add to the volunteering opportunities that are offered on campus, Alternative Spring Break is yet another option for international students who will be staying in America during next semester’s break. The name is misleading, because its programs are not only limited to the spring. An ASB trip gives students the opportunity to volunteer abroad, in cities including Little Rock, Ark. and South Bend, Ind. The organization, sponsored by the University YMCA, also has trips in the fall and during Thanksgiving break that are open to all students. More information can be found at illinoisasb.org/trips.

On the other hand, some international students like to travel to warmer parts of the U.S., like Florida or Texas. Others simply stay on campus even if they have no special plans or events.

“Because I’m taking the GRE (exam) in December, I’m thinking of (studying) and preparing for applications for graduate school,” said Shi-Yuan Yao, senior in FAA and international student from China.

Yao lives at PAR, which allows students to stay in their dorm rooms over break if they are approved. In the past, she has gone to visit her cousin in New England, but this year she decided to stay on campus and relax.

“I feel a lot of international students do stay here partially — not during the whole break, but a lot of them stay here,” she said. “I do think it’s kind of interesting when not many young people are on campus.”

But according to Tan, it’s not always lonely to stay behind. With members of both CU Internationals or TCCA on campus, among others, “it’s pretty fun to get to know people from all over the world.”

Reema can be reached [email protected]