Students enjoy their meal at the CIE
(Photo: Shai Anderson ’08)
Every winter, approximately 50 Berea College students remain on campus when their peers pack up, bid their friends goodbye and travel home for the holiday break. There are countless reasons why students stay. Many are international students who don’t have the time or funds to go home. A growing number of domestic students choose to stay for personal or family reasons often out of their control. Regardless of why they stay, these students are housed on campus without their typical social circle and no access to dining services, which is closed for the entire break.
The Center for International Education (CIE) is tasked with providing meals and activities for these students—which is quite the undertaking, according to Shai Anderson, CIE international student advisor. “The break is 26 days from the first day until dining services open again—that is a big gap to fill,” Anderson said. “In the past, I have only been able to provide a meal every other day or every two days. I start early in the fall thinking about activities for the winter break. Once I determine the events, I reach out to other campus resources to see if they are providing anything. Then, I look at the budget to see how many meals I can provide.”
The CIE provides meals and fun activities to keep students busy and to diminish feelings of isolation and loneliness Anderson said are inevitable during this period. The center also collects winter apparel items to help meet students’ needs. This is especially helpful for international students who are told when admitted not to pack winter items.
“Some countries don’t have winters and so they don’t have winter clothes,” Anderson said. Furthermore winter clothing takes up too much room in their suit cases.” When Anderson was given the opportunity to present before the Staff Forum this past fall, she jumped at the chance to connect with campus staff and let them know how they could get involved in supporting these students.
Anderson said the outpouring from campus departments this past year was exceptional. Departments came together to collect food and clothing items and to provide meals for students during the break.
When it was all said and done, the CIE provided students with meals every day of winter break along with warm clothes and other items to last through the break.
The Alumni Relations office volunteered to organize one of the dinners and invited local College alumni to participate. Marisa FitzGerald Aull ’99 jumped at the chance to help out. As a child, Aull’s family always had a welcome invitation to their dinner table, especially during holidays, she recalls. Her father, Edward FitzGerald Hon. ’03, served as international student advisor for the College for 20 years, and often hosted students during winter break.
“Those memories stuck with me and have really changed the way, as an adult, I do holidays,” Aull said. “While I love family, opening up your table and your home to friends, acquaintances and strangers solidifies the meaning of the holidays.” Aull and her family brought food to this past year’s alumni potluck dinner and spent several hours talking and eating with current students. “The experience was great,” Aull said. “For me, it’s a way to stay connected. It’s great to have those conversations and see what it’s like for students now.” Aull said she hopes her involvement with the College will also help her children to see that one’s college can be a community. “It’s not just about being an alum, but it’s about sharing your life with the place that gave you a good start,” she said. “Once you’re a Berean, you’re always a Berean, and if someone needs something as simple as bringing a dish of food and sharing your time—you give what you have. There are so many ways to give back to what Berea gave to us.”