International students face unique challenges over winter break

By Colton Williams 

While most Sewanee students traveled home between the Advent and Easter semesters, many international students stayed at the University for the duration of the winter break.

The winter break, which was nearly a month long, creates unique challenges for many international students on Sewanee’s campus. Often, international students are unable to travel to their home countries during this period, due to a combination of cost and added burden.

This year, those international students staying on campus were relocated from their regular room assignments to Smith and Cannon Halls. Pravesh Agarwal (C’23) said that while Smith and Cannon provided nice accommodations, “room and board would be considered one of the biggest challenges for international students who stay in Sewanee over the long break.” 

Mandy Tu (C’21), also emphasized the difficulty of moving back and forth between dorms over the break, though she also commented that accommodations this year were better as compared to the past. Speaking of the process, Tu said, “so you have to move out of your dorm and into the winter dorm, and with early arrivals you move back the week before classes. This past break we were lucky because we had Sarah [Marhevsky] on campus and she took us grocery shopping… though I don’t necessarily remember stuff like that happening in recent years.”

Sarah Marhevsky, the international student services coordinator at Sewanee, was also praised by Agarwal, who said that “Ms. Sarah Marhevsky’s constant effort to make trips down the mountain for groceries, movies or even reminders to reach out to her for any need, made the challenge feel less like one.”

“While Res Life generously allows international students to remain on campus over break,” Marhevsky said, “there are challenges to staying: students need to switch from their regular dorms to a winter dorm (and then back to their regular dorms again!), and McClurg is closed, so they need to shop and cook for themselves. It’s not like the vacation that most students get!”

Bobby Silk, director of residential life and first-year experience, said that international students are moved to new residence halls because “the consolidated housing helps to maximize safety and security for this group of students in residence” due to the limited operations of the University. 

One of the biggest challenges facing these students is transportation. “Mobility is an issue, as some have cars, can shop on their own, and can get out of town if they want (or need!) to,” Marhevsky said. “Others are limited to foot or pedal power or the outings offered to them—and Sewanee, as we know, is a small place with limited resources for those without wheels.”

This year, Marhevsky and the Office of Global Citizenship attempted to ameliorate some of the challenges, by helping students move, taking them shopping, and providing for some social events. 

“Much of the credit for support, however, goes to the wider community,” Marhevsky said. 

That support often comes in the shape of “Friendship Families,” which are local families–which can include anything from a single person to a two-parent household with children–that provide support for international students. Over the break, these families often have students over to their homes and help meet their other needs. 

“The people I met and the relationships built during the semester kept me warm and happy,” said Agarwal, who spent time in the homes of several members of the Sewanee community. 

Nevertheless, international students do face unique challenges that make additional support necessary. The issues of transportation, housing, and food, are persistent for students for the duration of their time at Sewanee.

“I think that a lot of the right things happened this year,” Marhevsky said, “and it took a lot of people to make that happen – and will in the future, too. Spending time with international students is a gift: they are a wonderful and diverse group, and I feel lucky to work with them.”