An International Perspective:

Do you go home over winter break or is home too far away?


Photo contributed by Erblin Shehu

Erblin Shehu. ’19, works in Chicago, Illinois with fellow Bonner Scholars Jeremy Moore, Dulce Loza and Mark Myers.

Traditionally students at Allegheny return to their respective homes when winter break begins; but for international students and global nomads, returning home is not always possible as home can be hours upon hours and a costly flight away.

Erblin Shehu, ’19, is a degree-seeking international student from Albania who was unable to go home for break because of the lengthy travel time and cost of travel expenses required for a relatively short break. Instead, Shehu returned to Columbus, Ohio where he had been an exchange student in his senior year of high school. In this way, Shehu was still able to spend the holidays with family. Together with his host family, Shehu travelled to Chicago, Illinois for Christmas before travelling to New York City with friends to ring in the new year.

“On New Year’s Eve I went to Times Square to see the ball drop with another international student from Allegheny. I spent the first week of 2016 visiting different places in New York City,” Shehu said.

While in New York City, Shehu, along with William Schmitt, the French teaching assistant, visited Chinatown, Little Italy, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, went to Harlem, the Bronx, the United Nations Headquarters and the 9/11 Memorial.

Shehu and Schmitt returned to Allegheny after New York City, where Shehu spent a few days relaxing before embarking on his next adventure. Schmitt remained at Allegheny for the rest of winter break. Shehu, however is a Bonner Scholar and traveled to Detroit, Michigan with the Bonner program for a community service trip.

While in Detroit, Shehu and other Bonner Scholars aided in soup kitchens and gathered tires that were illegally dumped for a program that makes sandals from the tires.

After spending one week in Detroit, Shehu came back to Allegheny to take part in the Emerging Leaders Retreat. Despite not being able to return home, he was able to fill his break with friends, family, service and travel.

Diptajyoti Mukherjee, ’19, is another degree seeking international student who was also unable to return home for winter break. Mukherjee is from India but for various reasons did not go home, instead he traveled to San Jose, California to visit his brother and cousin who live in that area.

Mukherjee travelled around the West coast where the highlight of his trip was going to the California Science Museum and seeing Space Shuttle Endeavour.

“I wasn’t expecting to see the space shuttle, but I got really excited when they told me they had the space shuttle in the hanger. I just rushed to see that and I spent the entire day exploring different parts of the shuttle and seeing everything,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee spent Christmas day with his brother and cousin in Santa Cruz. They enjoyed a small picnic and saw and explored a nature trail there.

Mukherjee has not seen any of his family for five months since coming to Allegheny. He still has not seen his parents and is missing them as well as the rest of his family and friends from India. However, he enjoyed spending time with his brother and being able to speak his native language once again and is very excited to go back home for a few months in the summer to see the rest of his family.

Although some students were not able to make the trek home, Tahmoor Akram, ’19, and Paul Willison, ’16, both returned to their respective home countries.

Akram travelled around 22 hours to return to Karachi, Pakistan. Despite living half his life outside of Pakistan, Akram still considers Karachi home. For most of break, he relaxed and spent time with his family, but when his grandfather called Akram’s father telling him that he needed help with a wild boar problem on his farm, Akram’s break got much more exciting.

“We went boar hunting. We used spears to hunt them. I don’t usually hunt but my grandfather has a farm that breeds pheasant and other game birds and they had a problem with boar breaking in and killing them,” Akram said.

Akram rung in the new year by firing guns into the air which is a Pakistani tradition.

“It is a cultural thing to fire guns into the air on New Year’s Eve. Guns are a cultural thing there, they are a big part [of the holiday],” Akram said.

Willison spent close to 30 hours in airplanes and airports to arrive in Entebbe, Uganda where he has lived since before he was a teenager, although he was born in the United States.

He filled his break with numerous activities.

“I went on a safari, whenever you are in East Africa it is one of the hot spots for going on a safari, seeing wild animals in their natural habitat,” Willison said. “We had a weekend after Christmas where we went up to the lake district and spent time with a family friend. They live right on a crater lake, it used to be a volcano and it is filled with water—it is super deep—and we would swim across the lake and enjoy the sun.”

Willison also spent time at the Mweya Safari Lodge at the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda.

“It was incredible, you would take a step outside of your room and there is the Kazinga Channel, a few elephants grabbing water, a few buffalo, hippos chilling and crocodiles,” Willison said.

Although winter break is five weeks long and that is often long enough for most traditional American students, international students tend to have more difficulty making it back home to see their families.

“I long to visit India,” Mukherjee said. “Unfortunately that can’t happen with the short span of time and feeling that home is forty hours away, sometimes it feels kind of overwhelming. I’ve missed a lot of family occasions—weddings, birthdays and stuff like that—I’ve missed a lot of festive occasions in India. There is just no way to go [to India right now].”