In the days following Fall Commencement, Virginia Tech's dining centers will close, lights in buildings across campus are turned off, and the once-bustling Drillfield is almost deserted. While many students head home for the holidays, international students are often left with a choice--to either stay in Blacksburg or embark on some other adventure before classes begin Jan. 20.

The decision to stay or leave is often based on traditions.

Distance won’t stop Jose Gonsalves of Trinidad and Tobago, a junior majoring in aerospace and ocean engineering in the College of Engineering, from returning home. 

“This semester has been particularly taxing on me, and I believe I need to go home to escape this academic setting and cold climate and enjoy myself for at least a little while before another semester of all-nighters and testing begins,” said Gonsalves.

“Beyond the sun, sand, and sea—which is in itself enough reason to leave cold Blacksburg over winter—it is where my family is,” said Gonsalves. “The Christmas holiday brings with it its own music, food, and festivals that all Trinidadian and Tobagonians treasure.”

Because some students come from countries that do not celebrate the holidays, they often spend the month-long break in the states with other international students to avoid feeling homesick. Others will enroll in Winter Session, which will be held Dec. 27 through Jan. 17.

“Some international students are invited by domestic roommates or classmates to visit those students’ families over break," said Brian Bolton, director of Cranwell International Center. "It’s always heartwarming to see those kinds of friendships take root and to know that an international student is going to have quality family time to experience American culture and be taken care of over the breaks.” 

Cranwell’s English conversation group leaders will, on occasion, offer their homes or plan events to engage with international students while campus is quiet.

Feiyu Lu of Beijing, China, a sophomore majoring in material science and engineering in the College of Engineering, plans to spend the holiday season with her roommate’s family in the states. She said that others plan to travel within the U.S., and cruises are often booked for international students during the holidays.

One of Cranwell’s essential services throughout the school year is to review students’ immigration documents and endorse their documents for travel. This eases the hassle at the airport for students traveling for the holidays. 

“I utilize Cranwell as my SEVIS [Student and Exchange Visitor Information System] sponsor to sign my I-20 form that recognizes my travel outside the U.S. so that I may have documentation to reenter the U.S," said Gonsalves.

Cranwell International Center, located at in Harper Hall on West Campus Drive, will close on Dec. 23 and re-open on Jan. 5. Advisors will be available to meet with students at that time. Walk-ins are welcome on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Written by Holly Paulette.