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International Students On How To Get Through Holiday Season While Away From Family

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's a tough call to make, telling your family you won't be able to see them in person for the holidays. Being away from family is something many of us are experiencing today. Well, there are more than a million international students living in the U.S., and many of them know what it's like to be away from their families for long periods of time. NPR's Brianna Scott spoke to several of those students about how they manage the holiday season.

BRIANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Back in Katayoon Beshkardana's home country, Iran, they obviously don't celebrate Thanksgiving. But she hasn't missed a single one in the last five years since she's been in the U.S.

KATAYOON BESHKARDANA: I'm so happy now that - Thanksgiving for me is now another additional celebration.

SCOTT: Beshkardana is a Ph.D. student at American University. She knows how hard it is for American students who can't see their families. That's the whole point of the holiday season, getting together. But she hasn't seen her mom or older brother since 2015.

BESHKARDANA: I think the best thing that helped me cope with it - it's just the video call.

SCOTT: It also helps that she has a strong network of friends in Washington, D.C., that she can lean on for support. But Beshkardana says she knows not every student has that benefit.

GIRISH VENKATESH: Really, I was lost. I didn't know what to do. And I was, like, completely left out of everything.

SCOTT: Girish Venkatesh has had to build community away from home before. He came to America from India five years ago on a 10-month exchange program, and he quickly found a mentor in his host father. So when Venkatesh left the U.S. after his exchange program and came back this year to attend Mesa Community College again, he was excited that his host father offered his place again. But early in March, his host father passed away after a heart attack.

VENKATESH: But this year, I'm going to really miss my host father, and I'm going to miss the celebration I used to have with him.

SCOTT: He had to start over, find a new home. Venkatesh says this, along with the stress of switching to online classes in the spring, has been difficult to manage. So he's been dealing with the stress the way a lot of us have.

VENKATESH: I go to gym, like, work out. And I play soccer. Then, actually, I dance. So I dance for some Bollywood music.

SCOTT: And he calls his family as much as possible. But a little bit of joy - Venkatesh has a new host father.

VENKATESH: He said don't worry. Like, we're going to set up a Christmas tree in the house, and you can decorate it. So I'm, like, very happy. I really like to decorate it, so I do it.

SCOTT: Sunit Girdhar is also from India. He's a student at Michigan Tech University. He's been missing his family more than he thought he would.

SUNIT GIRDHAR: The worst part is my sister just had a baby in August, you know? That's a big moment, and I was not there to witness it.

SCOTT: Oddly enough, Girdhar says this pandemic has actually brought him closer to his family, despite being over 7,000 miles away.

GIRDHAR: My dad has really been a rock because he's like, you can just either be sad about it or you can just take one day at a time and see what happens.

SCOTT: So, yeah, being away from family is tough, but international students do it for years and have to make the best of it.

Brianna Scott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S "IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.