Frederick Sowah ’06 returned home for winter break this year to find a world very different than the one he had left.
The young people on the streets were wearing American sports jerseys. The currency had experienced so much inflation that a new higher value note had been issued. Even his family had changed — there had been marriages, relatives had moved away from home, and he had missed it all.
Sowah had also changed. He left Ghana for New Haven before freshman year and was returning home for the first time, 18 months later.
“It was a very emotional time for me,” Sowah said. “It was — a time to reconnect.”
A year and a half is a long time to be away from home for any college student, especially a freshman. But Sowah is one of a handful of international students who, for reasons of finance or convenience, must remain in New Haven over breaks.
Although dorms remain open over Thanksgiving and spring breaks, during winter break everything closes. After Connecticut Limo has shuttled the last batch of students to the airport, the dining halls have stopped service and the libraries have been locked, the international group — usually around 10 or 12 students — moves to the Colony Inn.
New Haven becomes very quiet.
“It’s one of the worst feelings ever to swipe your card and it doesn’t work,” Sowah said. “It lets you know how it will feel when we leave Yale. It’s a big shock compared to when students are here.”
While their college friends are home celebrating Christmas and New Year’s with family, these international students often find themselves at the Colony for New Year’s. Ann Kuhlman, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, which pays for students on financial aid to stay at the Colony, said in the past the OISS has tried to provide the students with some Christmas hospitality, inviting them to someone’s home for an evening. This year, the plans fell through.
“You’re pretty cut off from your daily student life,” Kuhlman said.
Abrar Rahman ’07, from Pakistan, spent this winter break at the Colony. He said he was pleased to have a place to stay, even though he missed home and called his parents quite a few times to stay in touch.
The worst part, he said, was simply a lack of interesting activities in New Haven. Even school work began to look appealing.
“If there were some research or some work to do, that would be great,” Rahman said. “Anything to keep you busy.”
On top of paying for his own food in New Haven, Rahman said he spent around 75 dollars using the Internet at the Colony because computer clusters were closed.
Not all students are isolated at the Colony for the holidays. Brazilian Priscila Martins ’06, who usually spends part or all of her breaks in New Haven, said she has friends in the city with whom she can socialize. She said she enjoys the independence and wouldn’t want the OISS to “babysit” her over the break.
But she said the OISS could do more to bring students together. She said the students staying at the Colony did not even know who else would be there.
“There was not structure to make us connect,” she said. “If the students would know who was around, we could get together and organize things ourselves. A little bit of communication would really help.”
Kuhlman said the OISS did inform the students about who would be staying at the Colony.
She said that OISS is aware of the issues faced by the students and are looking for solutions to the problems.
Sowah said he hopes to return home next winter break as well, but his plans are not definite.
“I would rather be somewhere else, but since I’m in New Haven, I might as well make the best of it,” he said.