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Lack of financial aid options means that many lower income students don't have the option to travel or participate in spring break programs.

Credit: File Photo

Spring break is usually a time for relaxation and freedom, but for first-generation and low income Penn students, the week-long break can be a time of anxiety and economic worry.

With dining halls closed, some students have trouble finding affordable options for food since many depend on their meal plan. But as a part of the Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center’s support for FGLI students, the GIC had a food pantry that students could utilize.

“It creates an issue because not everyone can support themselves when it comes to food on campus ... this is one way we try to mitigate that,” graduate student Hulya Miclisse-Polat said, who interns at the GIC.

Though several students say that this pantry system is very helpful, spring break has other shortcomings for FGLI students. One problem is not having the resources to travel or participate in special spring break programs.

“We need to look at bigger systemic issues ... we need to think about the way these programs do not address [that],” Miclisse-Polat said.

College freshman Daniel Gonzalez also sees issues with these programs. He mentioned that many trips over the break, such as alternative spring breaks, do not offer financial aid, making it difficult for students with lower income backgrounds to participate. Gonzalez added that this difficulty is felt when some other Penn students get to take expensive spring break vacations.

“I am Puerto Rican and I have never been to Puerto Rico before ... it is just something that is probably not gonna happen for awhile,” Gonzalez said.

Despite this, Gonzalez has found a strong community of lower income and first generation students at Penn, many of whom stayed over spring break as well.

“I don’t feel isolated, there is a community for me ... we all work together [and it is] definitely a network,” Gonzalez said.

Another College freshman, who asked to be left anonymous for financial privacy, found that especially during short breaks, choosing whether or not to travel is a tough decision to make.

“[It is hard] having to balance financially what I want to do and what I need to do,” the student said.

The freshman appreciates getting to know people from different socio-economic backgrounds, but added that there is more to be done in terms of making sure lower income and first generation students are comfortable.

“There are a lot of interesting opportunities, but I feel like often times Penn doesn’t recognize that everyone can’t afford it,” the student said.