Mohammed Khalilia is from the West Bank in the Middle East. The MU computer science major hasn’t been home in 3½ years.
Although he’s Muslim, Khalilia says the Christmas season is the loneliest time of year for him because many of his friends are home visiting family.
“You feel far away,” he said. “There’s no one to help and no one to celebrate with. It’s hard, but there’s nothing you can do.”
About 1,400 international students are attending MU this year. They come from 98 countries, but most come from China, India and South Korea, said David Currey, MU Director of International Student and Scholar Services.
For an international student to travel home, an MU representative must sign a travel document. Currey said he has signed hundreds but doesn’t know just how many students left for the break.
Although MU sponsors many activities for international students, such as the “American Life” friendship program, it sponsors no specific programs for students who stay in the United States during winter break.
Khalilia’s visa expired last summer, three years after he applied for it. Now, he says, he cannot travel outside the United States because he would not be permitted to re-enter without a valid visa. Khalilia values his education and fears he would be unable to return if he leaves the country.
“It’s really ridiculous,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Khalilia was hoping to go home during winter break but said his family advised against it. He said that’s due in part to the political situation in his homeland.
“Palestine is the hot spot in the world at this time,” he said. “I don’t want to risk my life.”
Currey said travel anxiety is common among international students. Many students are “not real comfortable traveling home” during the break, he said. Unless students have valid visas for re-entry, they must apply for new visas before they can return. Wait times can be long during the holiday, Currey said, and there is a chance that a student’s visa application might be denied.
Ikuru Kuwakima also is staying in Columbia for the break this year. He is from Japan and has been studying in the United States for the last year and a half. Although he has a valid visa, Kuwakima said expense is his main reason for remaining stateside.
“It’s expensive to go home, and it’s not very good for my English learning,” Kuwakima said. “Most of my friends left, and I’m left alone, so that kind of sucks. I don’t miss home.”
Terez Bocz, 28, is from southwestern Hungary and has been studying at MU for 2½ years. Although Bocz has been able to visit her family in Hungary several times since beginning her studies in America, she decided to stay here during the break.
“Generally I go home for the summer because I have a longer break and it’s quite expensive (to travel),” she said.
She counts herself lucky because she is not spending the holidays alone. Bocz came to the United States with her boyfriend.
“The basic difference is that at home the family cooks,” she said. “The traditions are very similar. We usually eat turkey or fish.”