Column: Students deserve longer holiday breaks to recover from a taxing school year

By the time Thanksgiving break rolls around, it will have been three months since I’ve been back in Louisiana – home to my parents and my boyfriend. For most of us students who live outside the DMV, the extended breaks from school are our only times to see loved ones back home and enjoy a well-deserved period of recuperation from months of taxing classes and schoolwork. But GW’s Thanksgiving and winter breaks do not budget enough time for students to do so and become more of a short-lived inconvenience that’s no longer worth the appalling price of travel. A five-day Thanksgiving respite and a winter break that officially commences for some two days before Christmas Eve leaves no time for students to embrace their friends, family and childhood holiday traditions. GW should offer the whole week off for Thanksgiving and wrap up final exams a week earlier so students can get the most of their time off during an otherwise-burdensome school year.

Out of my five days of Thanksgiving Break, two are for traveling and only three are for actual enjoyment and relaxation at home. With my classes set to resume Monday at 11:00 a.m., my time at home ends early Sunday morning to catch a flight back to the District. Three days are not sufficient to make memories with family members and friends you haven’t seen in months and return to class recharged. A whole week off for Thanksgiving would give students enough time to relax and rediscover the joys of reconnecting with loved ones.

Other universities have set the precedent of giving students longer breaks, and GW must take the initiative to follow. As a tradeoff for kickstarting fall classes Aug. 22, one week before GW, my friends at Baylor and Tulane universities get the whole week off for Thanksgiving and finish the semester less than two weeks into December, compared to GW’s last day of final exams Dec. 22. When my friends are home enjoying the holidays and spending time with their loved ones, I will still be taking finals on campus. That can feel very isolating when you’re more than 1,200 miles from home. The people I feel closest to aren’t easily accessible, and extended holidays like Thanksgiving and winter break are my primary chance to see them. Nearly 80 percent of GW’s undergraduate students are from outside of the DMV area and deserve the chance to enjoy a fulfilling break from classes. Even if it means making up for the lost time elsewhere, the University needs to provide these students with the full week off for Thanksgiving and add an extra week off for winter break. I would be more than willing to start classes a week earlier if it meant I could spend quality time with the ones I miss and love back home.

I couldn’t finalize my travel plans home for the holiday season until about two weeks ago when my professors told me when my final exams would be in December. By then, ticket prices had soared compared to what I would have paid in August or September. Plane tickets for holiday travel are noticeably pricier than other times of the year with higher demand. If you bought a ticket this week, the trip to my Louisiana hometown would cost $1,319.70, not including the price of seats or the luggage – roughly double the cost of the same trip in August.

Even though GW publishes an official final exam schedule, not every professor plans an in-person exam for that day. The longer professors delay informing students when their final exams will be, the more students will need to pay for their tickets home. Other forms of transportation are essentially impossible for me because of their inefficiency, with car or train trips that can take up to 42 hours. For a five-day break, flying home is the only realistic option, one that is extremely expensive and unaffordable for many. With exorbitant prices for a visit covering a handful of days, I thought I’d have to spend the holidays alone and forego the financial burden of travel expenses piled on top of tuition. What should be a time to enjoy family, friends and a break turns into two days of worrying if the cost was even worth it.

To avoid the increased cost and experience a more fulfilling break, many students skip their Monday and Tuesday classes before Thanksgiving to enjoy the full week off, choosing to sacrifice their academic responsibility just for a much-deserved rest. Midterm season has been in full swing through the month and will continue for many after fall break. Students are already experiencing extreme burnout. I am tired, as is everyone at GW, and we will be even more exhausted by the time Thanksgiving arrives. I know I would also skip classes Monday and Tuesday if it didn’t mean sacrificing my grade. Time away from classes and residence halls are necessary for the well-being of students. We shouldn’t have to be cornered between seeing our loved ones, taking the time off we need to care for ourselves or staying alone to avoid spending money. If GW was more considerate, students wouldn’t have to make the choice between prioritizing themselves and essential rest time needed to thrive inside the classroom and beyond.

Isabella Soileau, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.

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