As December vacations approach, the holiday season is just around the corner full of season’s greetings and a heartwarming ambiance. Everyone seems happier around the holidays as dreary November melts into parties, sweets, decorations and quality time with family and friends.
When you are far away from home, it can be a difficult time of year. For exchange students, some want to experience other traditions, while others simply don’t have the financial resources to return for the holidays. Either way, if you aren’t making the voyage home, you can still find creative ways to enjoy the holiday season. After spending four Christmases abroad, I have three ways of celebrating and enjoying this time of year despite missing my loved ones.
Immersion is one of the best ways to gain more insight into local holiday customs. In Germany, Christmas markets are an important tradition. Quaint wooden stalls selling mulled wine, warm food and trinkets line town squares and streets. Most cities have more than one market within walking distance of each other and some offer free concerts or performances in local languages. If you are in a religious country, consider joining in on a service even if you don’t follow the same tradition.
It can be quite lonesome to spend the holidays alone, so making connections with others is critical to avoid negative feelings. Some universities offer a special programme that connects international students with a local family who adopts them for Christmas. This is a great opportunity to meet local people and learn more about one family’s holiday traditions. Another great option is to have events with other international students who are also staying for the vacation.
My personal favourite option is to travel. Exploring a new destination is exciting and keeps you focused on the present instead of brooding on what you are missing at home. There are so many sites and activities to see, especially around the holidays.
One of my favourite Christmas memories was in Kraków. A friend and I spent Christmas Day walking around the old city centre before returning to our hostel to make a Mexican Christmas dinner. It’s the perfect opportunity to make new memories in a distant place that will stay with you long after returning home.