Diana Chávez had just about given up hope of seeing her family this Christmas.
If not for an extraordinary gift from another student, she would probably be spending Dec. 25 in residence, as so many other international students do.
Chávez is from Ecuador and the cost of flying home is way beyond her budget.
But at Casino Night during welcome week, she met Jennica Jean of Nackawic, New Brunswick.
And that is when the story changed.
As it turns out, it was a lucky night for the both of them.
The students were playing games like blackjack and poker for monopoly money, which they could use later to buy prizes.
One of the biggest prizes was a $300 Air Canada gift card, one that could help Chávez pay for at least part of an airline ticket home.
Both Jean and Chávez wanted to win the prize, but for Jean, it wasn’t something she wanted for herself – she wanted to give it to Chávez.
Jean heard through the grapevine that Chávez could not afford to go home for Christmas.
At the end of the night, Jean had won the gift card. As she was given the prize, she asked for the microphone and presented her winnings to Chávez.
Chávez was so moved by the gift, she started to cry.
“It’s really cool because even before giving it to her I didn’t even know her,” Jean said. “I gave her the gift just to be kind, but now we are friends. It’s the best thing ever.”
Both Jean and Chávez see the value behind their new friendship.
Chávez changed classes after welcome week and in her new class she found Jean sitting in the front row. It was nice to see a friendly face, she said.
“Usually after class we see each other at meal hall,” Chávez said.
Chávez will now be able to spend Christmas with her family. Originally her goal was to go back home to Ecuador, but the ticket was still too expensive.
The original price of the flight home to Ecuador for Chávez was $1,200. Since then, the price has risen dramatically.
“I’ve told Jenicca that I’m not going back to Ecuador, because what was a $1,200 ticket has escalated quickly to $2,000, maybe even $3,000,” Chávez said. “The trip to my aunt’s house [in Philadelphia] is nothing compared to the price of going back home, which is super expensive.”
However, she is grateful to be spending the holidays with family in Philadelphia.
The $300 Air Canada gift card given by Jean is able to cover the entire cost of the flight to Philadelphia, which is around $280 according to Chávez.
“My aunt will be there, who is my dad’s sister. As well as my uncle, my cousins, and little George—their three-year-old puppy,” Chávez said.
Chávez promised Jean she’d send her pictures of her family.
Some international students don’t have the opportunity to go home over Christmas break. It makes Chávez feel lucky to have the opportunity presented by Jean.
“We [think we’re] just really good people with pure hearts,” Chávez said.