7 Ways International Students Can Spend College Winter Break

College students look forward to going home for the holidays, but it's a challenge for international students. Find other fun and productive winter break plans.
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Updated on April 3, 2023
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  • Traveling home over winter break isn't always possible for international students.
  • Luckily, there are other ways to spend your college winter break on or off campus.
  • Proper planning and timing can make traveling cheaper.

Many college students look forward to winter break as a time to relax and celebrate holidays with family and friends. But for international students, this time can be confusing since traveling home for student holidays is expensive and time-consuming.

But college winter break alternatives can help you experience other parts of the U.S., receive college credits, or earn extra cash. With some planning, you may even be able to travel back home or have loved ones visit you.

1. Spend College Winter Break With Friends

Staying with friends over winter break is a great way to strengthen relationships, have new experiences, and avoid travel costs. But asking friends you may not have known very long can be nerve-wracking, and you don't want to put them or yourself in an awkward position.

If you mention that you're unsure of your college winter break plans or missing friends and family, your friend might ask you to stay with them. Avoid being too pushy or asking outright — especially with new friends — as this may come off as impolite.

2. Take Winter-Session Classes

Winter-session classes, sometimes called "winterim" or winter intersession, occur over winter break. They last about 3-4 weeks from mid-to-late December through January, depending on the school. Many colleges also offer study abroad programs over winter break, which would allow you to travel and receive credits. Due to the accelerated format, prepare for more studying and work in a shorter time than typical semesters.

Since financial aid is processed differently for winter-session classes, it's important to contact your school's financial aid office before enrolling to plan for tuition payment.

3. Go on a Winter Break Trip

If you're looking for some fun over college winter break, consider taking a trip in the U.S.:

  • Ski Trip: If you enjoy bundling up for the cold weather and are a skiing enthusiast or beginner, consider Powder Mountain ski resort located in Eden, Utah. Powder Mountain caters to all levels and is described as North America's largest ski resort that's also budget-friendly. Colorado has some of the best ski resorts in the country in cities such as Aspen, Vail, and Beaver Creek.
  • Las Vegas, Nevada: Las Vegas in the winter offers elaborate Christmas decor, New Year's festivities, performances, and seasonal buffets.
  • Florida Beach Vacation: Looking to warm up over winter break? Try one of Florida's popular beach destinations, like Clearwater Beach, Daytona Beach, Miami, Key West, or Panama City. Save money by staying in a hotel close to but not directly on the beach.
  • New York: Whether staying in the city or in places such as Lake Placid or Buffalo, New York has a lot to offer tourists in the winter. You can spend your time shopping, dining, visiting museums, seeing a Broadway show, and ice skating. New York City can get very expensive, especially around New Year's Eve, so it's useful if you know someone who lives there or if you can find lodging outside the city.

As a college student, expensive travel and lodging might be out of your budget. Having a friend who would let you stay with them for a few days is a great way to save money on a winter trip. And you can enjoy any new destination if you research things to do in the area.

4. Stay at Your College Over Winter Break

Sometimes it's more practical and budget-friendly to stay on campus over winter break. Each school has different policies, but many colleges allow you to stay in campus housing, especially as an international student.

To request to stay on campus, contact the housing office as soon as possible to ensure you have a place to stay. The University of Illinois Chicago's winter break policy, for example, allows students to apply for Interim Housing in advance to remain in housing for an extra daily fee.

Staying on campus can be a great way to form friendships with other students who also stay on campus. It also allows you to get ahead on preparing for the next semester, enjoy the peace and quiet, and explore parts of campus you haven't before.

5. Get a Seasonal Job

To stay busy and make extra money, consider getting a seasonal job during college winter break. You can find seasonal jobs in retail, delivery services, restaurants, customer service, and child or pet care.

However, international students have restrictions regarding work eligibility. People on an F-1 Student Visa (allowed in the U.S. as full-time students at accredited colleges or universities) may not work off campus during their first academic year. But they may be able to accept on-campus employment. You may have a better chance of finding an on-campus job during winter break since there is less competition with many students leaving campus.

Some international students can work off campus if they're experiencing severe economic hardship. You can apply through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration office.

Studying in the U.S. as an international student can be a stressful process. Here’s everything you need to know to make your transition smoother.

6. Go Home for Winter Break

With COVID-19 travel restrictions being lifted, many international students are excited to go home for college winter break again.

Traveling home for the holidays is a great way to recharge and boost your spirits. International flights are not cheap, but you may find deals on airline tickets. Ticket prices change frequently, so it's important to check prices early and often.

Timing your travel dates is another way to find affordable flights. Travel is generally the busiest and most expensive the few days before or after Christmas and New Year's. You'll find fewer crowds and cheaper flights if you can travel early (think mid-December) or are willing to travel on December 24, 25, or 31 and January 1. If you can delay your travel until after the holidays, you could save on travel costs.

7. Ask Your Loved Ones to Visit the U.S.

Another option for relieving homesickness is to ask your loved ones to visit you instead. You may have parents or guardians, siblings, or friends back home who would be excited to travel to the U.S., possibly for the first time.

Traveling to another country is a big undertaking, particularly around the holidays. And especially if it's their first time. You can ease travel anxiety by helping plan the trip, for example, and offering options for accommodations and airport transport. Planning fun activities is another way to entice your loved ones to travel to you.

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