5 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays as an International Student

December 18, 2014

6 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays as an International Student

Ugly Christmas sweater parties are a must for every international student!

The semester is coming to a close and the holidays are upon us – this is typically the time when you would go home to spend the Christmas season with loved ones. But as an international student, this might be one of the many struggles of studying abroad.

While you may wish to go home for the holidays, or even have your family come visit you in the US, time and cost are often restrictions. Plus the hassle of scheduling international trips may be too much to deal with. For those who have decided to stay, this is a great opportunity to experience the excitement of the holiday season in the United States.

Regardless of the reason for staying, there are plenty of fun ways you can celebrate both Christmas and New Year.

#1 Get Together with Other Students

There are always students who remain on campus over the winter break, so use this as an opportunity to get together. A good idea is to plan a Christmas potluck party. Chances are you'll be surrounded by a very colorful mix of people including other international students like you. Have everyone bring their favorite dish from home so you can try a variety of foods. Recreate traditional customs native to your home country and share your culture or explore how other people celebrate. Students from non-Christian countries may especially enjoy this, as it would be a completely new experience to them. Get together and have fun!

If you get invited, you might even get the chance to join one of your American friends for a traditional Christmas with their family. Sometimes professors organize holiday dinners for students still on campus as well. If all else fails, you can always check out organizations such as Christmas International House, which organize holiday host stays with American families for students like you.

#2 Celebrate with People from Your Home Country

Depending on where you are, you may find that there's already a local community of people from your home country. If you discover one, don’t be afraid to get out there and meet new people. Visit community centers, churches, temples, and more to find a group that celebrates the holidays just like you do back home. This is a great way to beat the winter blues and any homesickness you may be feeling, even if just for a short while.

An easy way to find communities near you that share your heritage is to do a Google search for your nationality in the town you're living in. Many cities have "Little" versions of lots of nationalities where people congregate – such as Little Italy in New York City, or Little China in San Francisco. Even if you don't find an entire organized community, look for an ethnic restaurant cooking your home food. A stomach is indeed a way to the heart, and some traditional food may help lift your spirits during the holiday season.

#3 Volunteer at a Local Community Center

While you have the free time, why not help keep homesickness at bay by helping those in need? There have been many studies that being generous is the most effective mood booster, so try putting the science to work. Most communities put together Christmas dinners for those in need and they're always happy to take another volunteer who can cook and serve food. This also gives you a chance to give back to your new community and make new friends in the process.

#4 Christmas Trip Around the States

Christmas markets all over America are a great way to spend your time

Christmas markets all over America are a great way to spend your time

A lot of towns and cities in the US undergo a huge transformation during the holidays. Winter break is a great opportunity to take short trips to places you have always wanted to visit nearby, and chances are you'll find them cheery, glowing, and even brighter than the rest of the year. Visit tourist attractions or head to a nearby beach or town and just explore. Find out about the history of the places you're visiting and do some sight-seeing. You'll find that there'll be special events everywhere for the holidays, so you might just run into a huge Christmas market, a holiday play at a local community center, or carolers singing outside on the street.

#5 Bring the Christmas Spirit to Work

Women and men in uniform bringing presents to young children

People in uniform, just like you, can do a lot to brighten the holidays for those away from home.

Many international students that study to become medical and healthcare specialists are unable to leave during their break because they're busy with internships, residencies, or they have a regular job working in a medical setting. Luckily, hospitals, clinics, medical offices and the like tend to be very festive places during the holidays. A great way to enjoy the Christmas season is to share your holiday spirit with your co-workers and your patients (especially if you work with kids). Bring in traditional desserts or meals to share with colleagues, add some decorative touches from your home country, and get small presents to light up your patients' faces.

The Bottom Line: Stay Positive!

Even if you have an entire ocean between you and your loved ones, this doesn't mean you can't really enjoy the holidays. Making friends is even easier during this time of the year. Before you know it, school will be back in session, so use this time to do the fun activities you usually don't have time for.

Load up on all those books you have been meaning to read and read them. Do the same with movies you have wanted to watch. Ultimately, many people choose to focus on the good things that have happened to them in the previous year and to be thankful for any blessings they've received. Keep your positive attitude and don't let homesickness spoil the joy of Christmas for you.

Do you have some ideas for your fellow students that are spending the holidays away from home? Let us know in the comments!