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What does Family Weekend mean to international students?

The excitement and promise each August holds for new and returning students is accompanied by the pain of goodbyes. For an international student, this goodbye can be especially difficult. Most international students only see their family over winter and summer breaks and in some cases, international students go years without seeing their families.

The International Student Orientation Program begins two weeks before classes start, according to Miami’s Division of Student Life. They learn how to navigate the university, manage their classwork and form their social lives in a new country, Santiago Lopez, a first-year student from Argentina explained.

Parents that attend, however, take part in a different discussion, he said. They’re taught at length how to emotionally support students as they adjust to American culture and how to help students who experience potentially intense homesickness.

Mark Pontious, the director of Parent and Family Programs, said Family Weekend is a meaningful time for parents to visit their children and check in on how their transition is taking place. 

Though there is no data on family attendance, Pontious said he assumes that since it’s a standard two-day weekend, very few international families travel to Miami for the event.

Molly Heidemann, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said the presence of so many families over this weekend generally does not bend the mood of international students past the ordinary amount of homesickness.

Heidemann said the students’ resilience can be attributed to the inherent nature of being an international student.

“It doesn’t appear to affect them particularly negatively,” Heidemann said. “International students tend to be pretty hardy, and they travel across the world knowing they won’t see their families for months. Their expectations are different from the typical domestic student.”

But just because international students go long periods of time without seeing their families in person does not mean they don't stay connected. International students and families stay in touch through services like FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp. 

Lopez talks to his family every day. He said it’s like being back home.

“Every time I go out, they know,” Lopez said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, take care. Don’t be stupid.’

Lopez’s separation from his family didn’t exclude him from Family Weekend bonding. Several of his neighbors in Symmes Hall invited him to dinner with their own families.

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“Even though you are not close to your family, the people here try to help you,” Lopez said.

All the events planned for Family Weekend were open to all students, regardless of whether their family was in town or not. 

Ryan Kwapniowski, assistant director of Student Activities, encouraged all students to explore the many events that took place over the weekend.

“Regardless of whether or not your family is in town,” Kwapniowski said, “this is a great weekend to be a RedHawk.”