Home for the Holidays

I flew nearly 3,000 miles from Pennsylvania to attend the University of San Francisco. When I stepped out of the airport, I was jetlagged, cold, and the closer I got to campus, the more I felt like I’d entered an alien world. This transition is a reality for all out-of-state and international students traveling long distances. Holiday breaks, specifically, are a struggle with short adjustment periods to time and climate differences. Shortening summer and winter breaks would leave room for long weekends, like fall break, to be extended. Those inter-semester breaks would allow for time off school without travel, and would ensure academic breaks maintain their original purpose — for all students.  

I adjusted quickly to moving, but it still took several days. I had to skip move-in social activities to rest, and the time and climate adjustment are sure to be equally challenging over holidays and summer. If the university’s breaks were slightly shorter, those extra days could be reallocated throughout the semester. Having breaks from busy schedules that don’t require a travel itinerary would benefit out-of-state students. The dreaded adjustment period would be alleviated, and in-state students wouldn’t lose any time away from school. My situation clearly skews my desire for amended holiday breaks, but I’m not the only student facing these challenges. 

Of USF’s currently enrolled students, only 55% are California residents. 34% are from other U.S. states, and 11% are international students. 45% of USF’s students have to travel across state lines to get to and from school, making traveling a landmark challenge for many students during summer and winter breaks. 

The separate application for winter and summer housing as the primary academic breaks is convenient for students based near San Francisco. They can travel home for the shorter winter period and more easily move in and out of the city. For the 45% who live outside California, our breaks are cut short by travel time, and we lose out on relaxation and vacations as a byproduct of our cross-country commute. There are other instances, like the two-day Thanksgiving break, where visiting home isn’t accessible for out-of-state students because of limited travel time. This is another area where extra break days could be reassigned, while leaving the bulk of summer and winter breaks still intact.

Time away with families and intersession courses are an integral addition to every student’s experience. However, a geographically inclusive revision to the university’s holiday breaks could be feasible. Striking a balance that leaves enough time for intersession courses would mean borrowing only a couple of days from winter and summer breaks. The extension of the school year would be slight, but if there were, for example, seven extra days off throughout the semester, it would only push the winter break back by two or three days. Intersession courses, which typically don’t start until January, could still be held. Thanksgiving break could be extended with some of those days, and there could be several three to four day weekends dispersed throughout the semester. Those wouldn’t require travel, and would accommodate students’ geographical challenges. 

According to a welcome message from President Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., the class of 2027 comes from 61 countries and 51 states and territories. This reality further exacerbates student adjustments to different time zones and climates. For domestic students, the standard holiday breaks likely imitate those within American high schools, but as our professors often remind us, we aren’t in high school anymore. 

Shortening holiday breaks by a few days would allow for creative scheduling throughout the semester. Trial and error may persist, but plenty of time would remain for students to enjoy summer and winter breaks. Perhaps with this schedule adjustment, winter housing wouldn’t need a separate application. Both a shorter winter break and optional intersession courses could coexist in a beneficial way for local and long-distance students.  

Other universities have implemented longer fall breaks, changing the otherwise standard university calendar. The University of Notre Dame has a week-long fall break, an imitation of spring break that feels logical, given the similar length of both semesters. They’ve managed to do so while maintaining a full school year and traditional summer and winter breaks. It’s different from many other universities, but their success in lengthening fall break shows the potential for USF to do the same — and that creativity and functionality can overlap. 

I’m a domestic student from the Northeast, and adjusting to San Francisco’s weather and ecological environment was grueling. The prospect of summers and winters back home began to lose their childhood glamor. Now, vacation is tainted with worries about travel and such large adjustments to different environments that I lose an otherwise carefree and relaxing break. 

The academic calendar may take time to change, but there’s room for improvement as much as there’s room for three day weekends if that suits the student population. Unconventional and unimportant are not synonyms, and the only way to know if something will work better is to attempt something new. 

As someone whose hometown is twenty degrees hotter than and three hours ahead of San Francisco, I would happily welcome the change. 
What do you think about USF’s holiday break lengths? Let us know at https://forms.gle/ruRjV2upFD24RWT77!


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