On the weekend of Oct. 15, campus was energetic and lively, with sunny days and temperatures above 60 degrees. During parents weekend, families participated in events to learn about the Georgetown University community and campus offerings.
Many students’ parents did not come or, specifically in my case, they were not able to come. For international students, Family Weekend can be a sentimental and emotional time, revealing the complexities of homesickness and the difficulties for international families visiting the United States.
Over the course of this weekend, I was able to meet several of my friends’ parents, and all of them shared similar reactions of disappointment and optimism every time I told them that my parents have not been able to visit Georgetown yet because of delays in tourist visa appointments. It is imperative that the Georgetown community is aware of these complexities by promoting family events while also acknowledging the situations of students who are unable to see their families for a variety of reasons.
The wait time for a visa interview appointment in several U.S. embassies in India can be more than 780 days. While my father was able to drop me off at Georgetown in August 2021 under an emergency visa, my mother’s visa appointment can only be scheduled starting in 2023.
As my father starts a new job in Bhutan, it is nearly impossible for either of them to fly out to Georgetown this year. Family Weekend was thus a bittersweet time for me, as I fondly imagined the weekend itinerary I would prepare for my parents, the coffee shops we would explore, the friends they would meet and the fall trees they would see.
For other students, parents were caught up with life transitions, job difficulties, family issues and other reasons preventing them from attending. These students may have also been feeling sentimental and wishing that their families were with them on campus. Certainly, some students preferred that their parents didn’t come to Georgetown for Family Weekend, while others, like me, experienced an overwhelming wave of homesickness.
Homesickness can include missing your childhood home, your family, certain foods and smells, childhood friends, daily routines and more. Homesickness has no boundaries or geographical distance. My home is about 8,000 miles away in India and I experienced quite a bit of homesickness in the fall of my first year.
At the same time, I met people who called the West Coast, or even New York, home who talked about missing home and family members even though they lived just a few hours away. Initially, I was confused because many students can pack up and visit home for a weekend, whereas I had to wait for long semester breaks to do so.
But college is a change for everyone, no matter where they are coming from or how far behind they are leaving friends, family and communities. One can experience homesickness at any distance from their home and family. Even a Georgetown student with family in Northern Virginia could experience desires for home-cooked food, board game nights and daily family routines.
College is also a pivotal time in our lives during which students begin to embrace independent academic and social lives. Connection to family and staying grounded becomes even more important as students experience a myriad of new things. It is commendable that Georgetown and other universities make an effort to involve friends and families in their student’s lives. Aside from events in New Student Orientation, hosting Family Weekend is a great way for parents to be integrated into their children’s lives and such events should occur in a way where international families can be more involved. These events can even occur biannually to give families more of an opportunity to come visit their children and see their new lives.
At the same time, Georgetown should serve as a better support system and resource for international families trying to fly to Washington, D.C. Issuing public statements calling out the frustrations involved in obtaining a U.S. visa in order to stand in solidarity with these families would be reassuring to those struggling with the process. As pandemic restrictions ease, international families can only hope that staff shortages and visa processing times improve, and the university could be an influential voice to promote efficiency and accessibility.
In the meantime, the Georgetown community can continue to host family events while also checking on peers who may not be able to reunite with families at this time.
Priyasha Chakravarti is a sophomore in the College. International Voices appears in print and online every third Friday.