Not a jolly holiday

At the close of International Week last Saturday, most international students were reveling in the celebration of their identity, sharing their culture, traditions, foods and music with the rest of campus. While the College, or more specifically, the International Club, does provide the international students the medium to express themselves and be proud of their origin, there still remains the issue of international housing during the winter holidays – an issue that has not been well acknowledged by the College.

I’m sure many students shared a sense of disappointment as they opened their inboxes and read the e-mail “clarifying” the fact that the campus will be shut down (the words “shut down” were in bold) for the duration of winter break and that they had to find accommodation elsewhere. The e-mail continued by describing the College’s alternative option for students, the Christmas International House (CIH) program – a civic program that sets up students to live with “American” families during winter break. The program involves an application process and a fee of $140. The parochial aspect of the program may attract certain students and leave others disinclined, but the bigger unifying concern for students is living with a strange family in a program that will cost them money.

Students are also concerned with whether or not the College is able to provide an alternate solution such as offering campus housing to the select international students who are unable to go home. Many students are outraged by the fact that so little attention is given to this problem. According to International Club members, responsible administrators have been presented with this issue numerous times over the past three years, and their responses have shown neglect of the needs of international students in this regard.

While the ICH program does have its merits, it shouldn’t be the only option. As an international student, I find the notion of living with an unknown foster family to be intimidating. Various cultural backgrounds are wholly unfamiliar with this type of accommodation, and this may cause certain students to worry about this period of time and possibly incur financial debt, in the case that they find it necessary to go back home, halfway across the world. First-years are still in the process of developing “American” relationships with students and professors, and the overwhelming majority come from backgrounds where asking a new friend to live with them for several days is indecorous. This puts more pressure on international students who already have plenty to worry about as they are still in the process of adapting to American college life.

The College has almost always closed down the campus during the holidays. Prior to 2002, this may have made more sense because all Williams students were either American citizens or international students from wealthy backgrounds who could afford to pay the very expensive tuition. After the advent of the College’s need-blind acceptance of international students, the dynamic in this respect has changed. Many international students are on financial aid and cannot afford the price of meeting with family throughout the year. And because many of these international students come from low-income backgrounds, they wouldn’t be able to afford staying off-campus in the United States and living on their own. Harvard, one of the seven undergraduate institutions to offer need-blind acceptance to international students, doesn’t have on-campus accommodation for international students during winter break either (it also does not encourage attendance in a parochially-inclined program), so by starting on-campus accommodation at Williams, we will be leading many other top-tier colleges in a new direction with regard to international accommodation.

Exploring the logistics, we find the number of international students to be relatively small, and it’s likely a significant number would have relatives or friends to stay with in the United States. Therefore, accommodation for the small number of remaining students should be quite easy. As for provisional requirements such as food, the students could provide for themselves, and I’m sure the College would be able to help financially in preparing a program that could be mutually beneficial. In past years students have petitioned for this type of accommodation and in one year were successful in receiving some form of accomodation. The solution is a lot simpler than it may sound, and there are many steps the College can take to ensure that its finances are not negatively affected and that students, faculty and staff are satisfied with the on-campus program.

From the people I’ve spoken to, it seems wrong that a college of Williams’ caliber disregards an issue that is one of the most worrisome for international students. It is a difficult situation knowing that I will be removed from my college housing and be told that I have to find somewhere else to go. Having this uncertainty at a pivotal moment of adaptation can only impair the international student experience.

Abdullah Awad ’13 is from Amman, Jordan. He lives in Williams Hall.

One comment

  1. A lot of people expressed shock at the revelation that the college does not provide housing for international students over the Winter Break. What I found shocking was that the non-international population had no idea that this has always been true over the years for Williams. The dorms are all shut down during the breaks– what, the college is going to magically materialize housing for everyone that cannot go home?

    I’m also shocked that the majority of the said people sympathizing with the international students, who said that they would not be able to house even one international student during the break. Although the forced immersion in to a stranger’s home through the ICH program seems intimidating, staying at a friend’s house seems decidedly less scary. Why not? If the College is reluctant to provide residence for these students, and the number of international students who are in this situation are rather small as this article suggests, let’s start a program and house the international students in our own homes.

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