I found myself scissoring broccoli. Scissoring, I tell you. Obviously, kitchen knives aren’t allowed in freshman dorms, but seriously? I was spending my first college Thanksgiving away from home, and all I had to help me haphazardly assemble Thanksgiving dinner was a pair of office scissors and a hot water heater. Needless to say, it was a modern take on the holiday.
I knew a plane ticket back to California would cost too much during the Thanksgiving Break, since airline companies jack up the prices ridiculously over the holidays, when they know people will fly back and forth across the country to visit family. I was not about to pay hundreds of dollars for a mere four days of visiting home. Remember: poor college kid. Honestly, when I left home for a college on the opposite side of the country, I didn’t realize it would take this much time and planning and money to visit home. The thought never crossed my mind.
So instead, I flew home for Fall Break, a five-day vacation (weekend included,) that some schools randomly throw at you in the middle of October. Plane tickets were a good $200 cheaper than those for Thanksgiving, and I thought, “Hey, I don’t really need to go home to celebrate a holiday that marks the beginning of the world’s most down-played genocide.” So I spent my Fall Break in California and stayed on campus in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. Not only did I save money, but I chose the perfect time to stay. I wrote a solid first draft of my Atlantic history research paper, went adventuring through the streets my college town, enjoyed a number of good reads, and slept a LOT. Foraging for food proved difficult, as campus dining had been shut down for the holidays. Somehow I ended up at an afternoon Thanksgiving potluck in the senior apartments, making lots of new friends while bonding over food, later sharing Thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend via Skype: mac n cheese, instant mashed potatoes, and yes, scissored broccoli.
I know now how lucky I was to go home at all in the fall. One of my sophomore friends at Wesleyan is an international student from Indonesia, and he hasn’t been able to afford a plane ticket home for an entire year and a half. Last winter, he was helped by an alumni program that allows alumni to donate frequent flyer miles to international students; these miles are pooled and distributed to international students based on the quality of their application. It’s pretty cool.
Besides, there are plenty other students in more common situations who don’t go home for Winter or Spring Breaks either. Some athletes have committed to continuing team practice during breaks; some low-income students can’t afford to go home frequently; some students conduct research or work internships; and other students travel together, backpacking in a mountain range or chilling at a new friend’s timeshare on the beach.
The exciting part, though, is that the college break schedule is a huge improvement from your high school’s. Winter Break now covers at least three weeks, up to five if you attend a private school on the semester system. Spring Break stretches anywhere from one week to two. You still get all those random three-day weekends for holidays like Veteran’s Day and Lincoln’s Birthday and whatnot, but you get other short vacations like Fall Break, too.
The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Check out your academic calendar. Book plane tickets at least a month in advance. Thoroughly research train and bus schedules. Secure commitments from friends. Collect hotel costs and gas money from those friends in advance. Get food. And always, always, always bring a camera. You’ll want to remember that story for your class reunion years from now.