The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Personal essay: Holidays are bittersweet for out-of-state students

3 min read

Out-of-state students experience holiday breaks differently than those who live nearby. Nicole Michalou /


Staff Writer

As the weather gets colder and the holidays roll around, many students retreat home to be with their families. However, not all of us have this luxury, especially those like me who live hundreds of miles away.  

When I decided on Mary Washington, the lengthy distance away from home is what enticed me the most. Aside from UMW’s education and the scenic downtown area, being in a different state where I did not know anyone intrigued me. Being six hours away from my home in New Jersey gave me the distance that I needed to stand on my own and grow into a young adult.

I knew when I made the decision to attend school six hours away that I would not be able to go home every other weekend like many of my peers. When I do go home, it requires a lot of planning. I have to schedule a time to visit my friends and family when it coincides with my school assignments. It never dawned on me that I would often find myself alone for the holidays. 

Thanksgiving break gives UMW students a much-needed rest before finals season approaches. This year, Thanksgiving break ranges from Nov. 24 to Nov. 29. In those five days, we are expected to spend time with family, share a meal around the dinner table and take a mental break before encountering the difficult times that lie ahead. 

Unfortunately, I will find myself alone this Thanksgiving break. Though I am grateful to experience college in another state, it makes me wonder what It would be like to be able to hop in my car and be home in less than two hours. Instead, every year I have to debate whether or not I have the time to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95 with everyone else who is trying to make it home for the holidays or, alternatively, if I have the time to sit on an overcrowded train of strangers in the middle of a pandemic. These are the types of choices that I have to face. 

Last year, during the height of the pandemic, the university offered online classes for students, so I didn’t have to make the decision to be alone. It wasn’t the traditional Thanksgiving that I craved, but at the very least I was home. 

Even when I cannot make it back to New Jersey, my friends are extremely supportive, and they always invite me to spend the short holiday with their families. Though the gesture is nice, I know that accepting would just make me wish to be in my own home even more. So, I kindly decline, but always accept leftovers. 

Every year that I cannot make it back, my mom sets up a place for me at the table. She sets her phone or laptop up to video chat so that I can see everyone at the table and they can see me. We do our best to coordinate meals so that we are all eating at the same time. Each time I try to pick a different restaurant for my “Thanksgiving meal.” The first year it was Chinese, the second year it was Mexican, and for this final year I am leaning towards sushi. The video chat makes me feel included as much as possible, and getting to see everyone laugh and tell stories makes me look forward to being home for Christmas dinner. 

When I know that I cannot make it home, I try to keep myself busy and distracted. My favorite thing to do is go to the movies alone, as there is something about an empty movie theater that is comforting. This year I also volunteered to cover the Thanksgiving shift at work. I know that if I cannot make it home, at least someone else will have the opportunity to be with family. 

Going months without seeing your family and friends is hard, especially after being in the house with them for a year during COVID. If I knew about the loneliness that comes with the distance when deciding on this school, maybe I would have chosen something closer to home. For now though, I count the days until winter break when I can finally be back in my hometown.