International students find community over the holidays

"There has been only one Christmas -- the rest are anniversaries." -W.J. Cameron- (Flickr/Just Joe)

For many international students, the winter break is not really a break.

The high cost of airfare means many don’t have a chance to see their families.

Eugenia Rodriguez is an international student at St. Thomas University and her family lives in León, Mexico. If she were to go home in December, she said the plane ticket would cost her about $2,000.

“Winter vacation is not as long as summer vacation, so we’d rather wait,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s mother and stepfather planned a trip to New York City for the holiday, but Rodriguez decided that she wanted her mother and stepfather to spend time together.

She said they didn’t have a honeymoon when they got married because of their financial situation and that her mother is an extraordinary woman, who gave Rodriguez the opportunity to travel at least once a year.

This time, however, Rodriguez wanted her mother and stepfather to enjoy themselves.

Rodriguez’s roommates are leaving for the holidays, but she doesn’t mind staying in Fredericton because she enjoys her alone time. She likes being with her friends, but sometimes she values a break.

“The semester has been kind of hard, so being by myself for a while doesn’t sound too bad,” she said.

While Rodriguez is here over the holidays, she wants to sleep, watch TV shows, read a good book and explore the city. Fredericton’s quiet, small-town atmosphere appealed to her before she came to study here.

“I love winter. It’s my favourite season,” she said. “I thought ‘why not take the opportunity to just spend some time here and get to know the city as much as I can?’”

“I’ve always been a nature lover. Here in Fredericton I can get to see and enjoy the beautiful views, the trees and the river. It has just been wonderful.”

Shortly after Rodriguez left Mexico to come to STU, her grandfather became ill. It frustrated her that, after all those years of him being fine, he received a diagnosis when she left. They caught it on time, so it isn’t lethal.

Her grandfather’s diagnosis caused her stress, but she’ll see him when she returns to León in the summer. Her roommates encouraged her to buy her ticket during Black Friday sales, which saved her a lot of money.

Her round-trip ticket only cost $630.

“Even though I’ve been having the time of my life here in Fredericton. There comes a point where you start missing home. Going back — it means the world to me,” said Rodriguez.

Eugenia Rodriguez, second-year St. Thomas University International student, from Mexico. (Submitted: Eugenia Flores)

Second-year student Arianna Pineda wanted to go home to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for the holidays. She visited over the summer break, but she says the tickets are just too expensive to travel for the winter break.

“It’s heartbreaking that I am not going to be able to see them until next summer,” said Pineda.

Instead, Pineda plans to visit Québec City or Toronto with some of her friends who are also staying in Canada for the break.

She thought Québec City in the winter looked cute and colourful, perfect for the holidays. She wants to wander around a new place and explore.

“Québec City looks like a Christmas town,” she said. “[In Toronto,] I feel like there’s going to be more things to do for New Year’s.”

Traditionally, Pineda spends Christmas and New Year’s with her whole family. Now, she video calls them almost every day. She thinks that if she does something fun this year, she won’t think so much about missing her family.

“[My friends and I] are doing everything together. It’s just an instinct. We’re very used to spending Christmas with other people. If we didn’t have each other, we would be in this alone,” she said.