Flavia Batista is no stranger to spending the holidays away from her family. 

She grew up in Brazil where she attended undergraduate school before getting her masters in Illinois. She then decided to attend the University of Maryland, where she has been for the past three years working to obtain her doctorate in government and politics. 

The first year Batista spent away from her home during the holidays was challenging, especially with her January birthday that followed shortly after. One of the biggest things that got her through the difficult time was the community she built with other international students.

Batista advises those who can’t travel home during breaks to organize something with friends — whether that be other international students or people from Maryland who will be in the area.

“Just be together with the people you like here,” Batista said. “It’s gonna make this moment a little bit less challenging.” 

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Junior mechanical engineering major Nelson Barboza also advises students who can’t leave campus during break to form reliable connections. Barboza has the opportunity to travel to his home in Venezuela during the holidays, but said there’s people who care about him at this university that wouldn’t let him be alone if he had to stay.

“I would advise creating good and deep connections with people you trust,” Barboza said. “If you have any family members here, go to them. If not, try to go to a friend you make here.”

Although there are opportunities for international students at this university to find community, others prefer to dive into their work during the holiday season. 

One of the ways first-year graduate student Dominic Thirshatha Thirukumar deals with being away for the holidays by keeping himself occupied, whether through school work or exploring the area with friends.

Thirukumar admitted that staying behind while his friends went home for Thanksgiving was tough, but after a few days of feeling alone, he was able to distract himself.

“I had homework and assignments to keep myself busy,” Thirukumar said. “And after that, when I went to the shopping [mall], I really felt okay. I was really good.”

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He advises other international students struggling with loneliness to stay busy, which could mean dedicating time to schoolwork, making extra money at a campus job or exploring other states. Thirukumar is taking his own advice for the upcoming winter break and plans to travel to Florida to visit friends.

Technological features such as FaceTime and Zoom can also make it easier to connect with family and friends over long distances. 

Despite being away from home during the break, Batista still got to be apart of her family photo by joining a video chat on her phone.

“It is sad not to be there, but at least it is a memory that you’re creating with them,” Batista said.