Students find new holiday options

Not all area boarding school and college students get to go to Disney World if they can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, but many of those who do stay at school have to leave campus to give staff a chance to spend the holiday with family.

At the all-girl Grier School near Tyrone, the girls who can’t get home have several options, including a teacher-chaperoned trip to Disney World, said Gina Borst, Grier’s head of school.

One of those Grier students headed for Disney World is Ana Sanchez, 18, who’s from Mexico. Sanchez said she’s not sad about not going home because they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in her homeland, and she’ll be returning to Mexico for Christmas.

“I’m really excited to go to Disney with my friends and have an awesome break,” she said.

If they choose not to go to Disney World, Borst said Grier students who don’t have other options might choose to stay in a local hotel where the school rents one floor of rooms, she said. Students at the boarding school can take day trips to cities such as New York or Pittsburgh, she said. Grier teachers volunteer to chaperone the students who choose to stay at the local hotel, she said.

Other students are invited to spend Thanksgiving with fellow Grier students or stay with close friends and relatives, Borst said. Kamela Souza, 17, of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is going to visit family and friends in Georgia for Thanksgiving break.

“I haven’t see this friend in awhile,” Souza said, “and Christmas break is close enough that I won’t miss my family too much.”

At the Penn State

Altoona campus, spokes-

man Marissa Rea Carney said everyone at the campus was leaving for Thanksgiving break.

At Juniata College in Huntingdon, which like Grier has several international students, students must vacate the residence halls that are closed because the college doesn’t have the staff to keep them open during the break, said Kris Clarkson, Juniata’s dean of students. The same is true during semester break and spring breaks, he said. The college doesn’t like to encourage the students to cook in their dorm rooms because of fire and health hazards.

“There’s no on-campus food service available during those times and the residence halls are not well-equipped for meal preparation,” Clarkson said.

The college does offer small house areas on campus that have kitchen facilities and a college guest house, he said.

“We also provide a list of students who live in off-campus apartments who are willing to have guest ‘sitters’ during breaks,” Clarkson said.

Juniata also offers trips to New York City and Pittsburgh, said Hannah Jeffery of Kutztown, a resident assistant who’s also a sophomore.

“Most of the students don’t stay, or they’re international students and they live very far away from home,” she said.

Kati Csoman, Juniata’s assistant dean of the Center for International Education, said the college tried to set up trips for the international students to Philadelphia and State College during the Thanksgiving break but got no takers.

“But that is OK, because many of them are going home with roommates, friends or other American families during the break,” she said. “I think this is the best possible option for them.”

At St. Francis University in Loretto, students who can’t go home because they’re either involved in sports or they’re international students are allowed to stay on campus, said two of the international students.

To ensure the students’ safety, the school deactivates the dorm “swipes” or identification cards of those students who aren’t authorized to stay on campus, said Danielle Gryckiewicz, a sophomore from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Only authorized students and campus police will have access to the dorms, she said.

Gryckiewicz, who plays on the school’s women’s tennis team, is staying at the school because she is involved in sports and because it’s too far to travel home, she said.

“This will be my first year spending Thanksgiving in America, so I am a little nervous and excited to see what it is all about, especially Black Friday shopping,” she said.

St. Francis has three events planned for students who remain on campus, she said. They include a chance to volunteer at the Dorothy Day Thanksgiving Dinner that was held on Wednesday, a movie night tonight if there’s enough interest, and Thanksgiving dinner at the Altoona Alliance Church in Altoona on Saturday night.

“My plan though, really, is to immerse myself in the American Thanksgiving experience,” Gryckiewicz said. She said a teammate’s mom has provided a catered Thanksgiving dinner that she and other teammates will enjoy in the dorm.

Gryckiewicz will be far from alone on campus at St. Francis. Other international students, such as Rojina Regmi of Italy, will also be spending the holiday at the Loretto school while many of her classmates go home for the Thanksgiving break. Regmi, a freshman, said she plans to participate in some of the planned activities.

As for feeling lonely, she said she does miss her family, but she believes that’s part of what she signed up for when she applied for a college in the United States.

“Sometimes it feels bad seeing everyone leaving from campus to go home because I would like to see my family often, too,” she said. “However, since I have moved far from my family, being apart from them for a long time is what I must [get] used to.”