How to Survive the Holidays When Studying Abroad

This Christmas, I spent the holidays away in India, and let me tell you, it is hard to celebrate major holidays away from your family. In the states, I would go home for Christmas; in fact, the dorms would close and everyone would leave, so it was expected that you would go home for the holidays, or at least go somewhere if you didn’t want to spend it with family. This year, I decided that it worked better for me to stay in India over Winter break (mainly because plane tickets are stinkin’ expensive!) So here are my four steps to surviving the holidays while overseas. Though I talk only about Christmas and New Year’s, you can insert almost any holiday into this category, though those are the two big ones for me!

First, bring a special Christmas object/decoration. If you know you’re going to be away for Christmas, like I did, you have got to plan. Specifically, I was torn between taking the things I believed essential for living in India, like sunscreen, clothes, books, etc. However, I made sure to pack my Christmas nutcracker (a gift from my grandmother when I was eight years old). While packing, I realized that I was putting stuff in my suitcase that I could probably get in India, whereas my nutcracker and my mom’s Christmas sweater cannot be found anywhere else in the world. So, if you have an ornament, small tree, picture, mug, or scarf that screams Christmas to you, then bring it! I would have so regretted bringing jumbo sized shampoo and conditioner bottles if I had not made room for the special things.

Second, make friends and share bits and pieces of culture. In India, festivals are everywhere, so participate in them. Become friends with people and create your own community. If you go anywhere and do not make at least one friend, then you are missing out on culture, language, and friendship. One of the biggest things was opening myself to celebrating holidays here, even if I didn’t always know what they meant. Because I celebrated Diwali with my friends, they were open to celebrating Christmas with me. I am not alone for the holidays because I have a community around me that wants to learn about my culture. However, they want to learn about my holidays because I was interested in learning about theirs. It’s a two-way street, and this is honestly one of the most important steps to surviving and thriving during the holidays. So have a movie night. Decorate a Christmas tree. Do normal Christmas things with your new friends!

Third, do NOT neglect your family and friends back home. There are two types of reactions when going overseas. Some people constantly message people back home and forget to enjoy the adventures all around them, and others do the opposite and forget/neglect their friends and family. The goal is to find balance. I still message my parents and my friends, but I also use self-control. Find out what kind of person you are and either set limits for yourself or set alarms to remind yourself to communicate. Sometimes, it is helpful to have one day that you call people so that you do not end up always talking to them. I set it up that I would call my parents on Christmas Day and Skype in with my whole family. Yeah, it will be crazy and late at night for me, but I know that it is a memory I will keep even when I am back in the States.

Finally, re-create/establish important holiday traditions. My family loves watching movies. That was our go-to for a Friday night, so of course, if I want it to feel like Christmas, I have to watch a Christmas movie. Thankfully, there is Netflix, but even short scenes from YouTube help to scare away the Christmas blues. Find traditions that remind you of home, or even create new ones. Hot chocolate and apple cider were never Christmas traditions for me, but the entire month of December I have been drinking hot cocoa and apple cider at least once (maybe twice) a week. Not only am I able to share these traditions with my new friends, but it helps India feel more like home. So, if decorating a Christmas tree is important, then find a cheap tree somewhere and make ornaments to hang. Even if it’s not fancy or beautiful, it’s a reminder of Christmas. Watch a Charlie Brown Christmas, even if it’s only bits and pieces from YouTube. Find what makes you happy and reminds you of home but be sure to share it.

Being overseas for the holidays seems daunting, and some ways, it can be. However, don’t focus on the negative; instead, find ways that you can stay positive during the Christmas season. Even if it’s simply putting a Nutcracker on an empty table, it’s a reminder of Christmas and that none of us are alone, even when we are thousands of miles away from friends and family.