Benji Dobler stands on the deck of a cruise ship overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Dobler took a cruise from Miami through the Bahamas over spring break in March 2022.
Benji Dobler ’24 stands on the deck of a cruise ship overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Dobler took a cruise from Miami through the Bahamas over spring break in March 2022.

For many Doane students, there’s no question of where they’re going for breaks or holidays — home. But when home is hundreds, or even thousands of miles away, there isn’t always an easy answer of what to do when the university closes and the residence halls empty. When typically, you gather with family to celebrate another year.

The university actually only closes once each academic year, during winter break. Any other break — fall, spring, even during the summer as part of a research position or internship — students can request to stay on campus.

During winter break, though, students in need of a place to stay will never be turned away without support, and can speak with Doane staff to find a solution.

“There are always options,” said Tim Burge, director of international programs.

Burge started in his role at Doane just this fall. Finding those options for students studying from abroad has been one of his goals throughout his first semester on campus, and he’s worked with staff in Admissions and Student Affairs to learn what is already in place at Doane and what can be offered in the future. One possibility is partially subsidizing a block of local hotel rooms. Another option being considered is coordinating reduced campus housing. In either case, the options would be as needed, depending on student interest.

What Burge has seen is that many international students already live off campus or make their own arrangements to spend breaks and holidays with friends, teammates and even Doane faculty, staff, coaches and alumni.

“Since many of our international students are a part of an athletics team, most of them have a network of teammates that they find off-campus arrangements with while campus housing is not open,” Burge said.

Dr. Julianna Grabianowski, assistant professor of business, is from Germany herself and began working at Doane in 2018. Extending an invitation to international students to join her for holidays just felt like the right thing to do, she said. She knows what it’s like to miss family on another continent, and wanted to provide students with the experiences they heard about from Doane friends.

“When students hear from others who are going home and having great food and a good time, that was motivation enough to invite them over for the holidays,” Grabianowski said.

That time together outside of class has allowed her to learn about her students’ cultures and families, and she often also hosts graduation parties at her home, as well. When her students’ families visit, they head to Grabianowski’s after commencement.

“Language barriers do not really create challenges as we just connect over food and beverages,” she said. And there’s usually a lot of food. She makes sure to ask for allergies, and prepares some of the holiday classics — a turkey and pumpkin pie or casserole at Thanksgiving, maybe a ribeye or shrimp for Christmas.

“I want to give them something they normally do not have while here. Sometimes the students want to bring something, too, usually something from their country, which makes it fun,” Grabianowski said, and will often incorporate German dishes, as well. “So, it’s more of a holiday potluck, if you will, with an emphasis on the potluck and not necessarily the holiday.”

It’s certainly true that food brings people together. Krismar Williams Romero ’24, who is studying business administration with an emphasis in finances, grew up celebrating Thanksgiving in Panama even though it’s mainly a U.S. holiday. Before coming to Doane, the Thanksgiving she knew was a much smaller event.

“I won’t forget my first Thanksgiving in the U.S.” she said. “I was surprised at how much stuff there was and how families came together. I found it so special.”

That was something that surprised Williams, how willing her friends and their families were to invite her and other international students into their homes to stay for breaks or holidays. It’s been really nice to make those types of friendships, she said.

Her family has had several generations study at Doane, and has established connections at the university and in Nebraska. For spring and fall break, she usually stays with one of her dad’s college friends in Omaha.

“They have included me as their own for the three years I’ve been here,” Williams said.

“I’ve spent Thanksgiving with retired Doane teachers and alumni, too,” she said, who basically adopted her as a grandchild. “They have been my family here in Crete.”

And if she’s not with them, she’s traveling. Her roommate is also from Panama and had her mom visit last year. Together, the trio visited towns throughout Nebraska. Another time, Williams visited a friend’s hometown to watch her sister’s basketball game. Traveling with friends has been something she’s really enjoyed throughout her time at Doane.

That has been the case for Benji Dobler ’24, as well, who hails from Hungary. Dobler, who is majoring in exercise science and psychology, is a member of Doane’s men’s wrestling team, which often has training, tournaments and traveling scheduled during the fall and Thanksgiving breaks. For those, he’ll stay at a teammate’s apartment.

But for longer breaks, Dobler has enjoyed visiting different regions of the U.S. He spent his first Doane winter break with a friend he actually met in Hungary. His friend had spent several years wrestling in Hungary, but grew up in Virginia.

“It was a lot of fun. We went to Washington, D.C., camped a weekend in West Virginia and got to see a lot of things,” Dobler said.

Traveling is something he’s taken advantage of while studying at Doane. It’s much more cost-effective, he said, to travel from within the U.S. to places like California or D.C. And it gives him plenty of opportunities to explore and see the world. He spent spring break on a cruise starting from Miami that wove through the Bahamas — “the places I saw were gorgeous,” he said.

Last winter, his family came to visit and spent the break on the west coast.

“We went from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego,” he said. “It was really good to spend time with them, especially because I only get to see them during summer break when I go home.”

Jorge Chevez Ricardo ’23, who is majoring in business administration with an emphasis in human resource management, also goes home to see his family in Panama each summer, and tries to spend winter break at home, as well. He wasn’t able to in 2020, though. He tested positive for Covid-19 one day before traveling, and wasn’t allowed to travel internationally.

“That break was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. But although it was hard — that was the first time Chevez had spent the holidays away from family — it worked out. A friend attending college in Minnesota invited him to stay for the holidays.

During other breaks, he’s stayed with friends made at Doane, and even traveled with other international students. This Thanksgiving, he joined a group of students to visit Colorado.

“Thanks to the people I’ve met at Doane and friends who live in the U.S., I never had to spend a holiday break alone,” Chevez said. “Despite being far from home, these people have helped me feel at home.”