Studying abroad during the holidays can be emotionally taxing. While there are plenty of opportunities to feel homesick during the semester, the holidays seem to bring out mass amounts of loneliness. It is totally normal to feel homesick during this time, so don’t ignore your feelings, abandon who you are just because you’re in a different country, or forget the reasons why you chose to study abroad.
To help you feel better about being away from your family and friends, we’ve compiled a list of ways to battle the holiday blues.
Don’t feel like you can’t bring your traditions with you
Just because you’re in a new country doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the holidays like you usually do. Bringing your traditions with you makes for great bonding experiences with your host family and new friends. If you’re good in the kitchen, teach your host mother how to make challah for Chanukah or your favorite type of Christmas cookie. Decorate gingerbread houses with your host siblings, especially if they are younger than you. If you can sing, get together with a local friend who can also sing and teach him/her the counterpart of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” or another carol.
Celebrate like a local
The whole point of going abroad is to experience a new culture, so don’t pass up any opportunities to celebrate the holidays like a local! Take advantage of the new culture and explore your host city’s Christmas markets and other holiday traditions, such as ice skating in the plaza or the annual Christmas tree lighting. Get dolled up and attend the local holiday orchestra or opera performance with friends, or get a costume and partake in neighborhood holiday parades, such as the Krampus run in German-speaking countries. If you’re studying abroad in a colder country, drink way too much mulled wine or hot chocolate, and be sure to bring home the mugs so you will always have a piece of the holidays from your host country.
Do what you can to feel “closer” to home
Even though you are in a different country, there are many ways make you feel like you are in your hometown. For example, find a Starbucks and order your favorite peppermint mocha coffee, or go to a local coffee shop and ask if they have the ingredients to make you a festive drink. Make a playlist of the holiday songs you normally listen to with your family and play it when you need a pick-me-up. Gather your new friends or host family together and watch your favorite holiday movie, such as Christmas Vacation or Eight Crazy Nights.
Call the embassy
If you’re in a country that doesn’t celebrate your holiday, the embassy will often organize holiday events for foreigners living in the city. Even if your host country does celebrate your holiday, the embassy usually has good tips for how to best celebrate the holiday, such as holiday specials at local restaurants and travel recommendations.
Make your own celebration
There is no better way to celebrate the holidays than by hosting your own gathering. If you’re living in your own apartment or dorm, have a holiday party with all of your new friends. This is a great way to integrate local customs and your traditions from home, and celebrating with your new friends will make you feel less homesick.
Have your parents put the laptop on your place at the table so you can have Christmas dinner or light the Menorah with your family. Better yet, if your family hosts a holiday party, tell your parents to pop open Skype and pass you around the party. This way, you can still feel like you’re at the party and have the opportunity to catch up with some of your family friends. You’ll also be the most popular one at the party – everyone will want to know about the exciting things that you’ve seen and done!
Go someplace new
Many people use the time during the holidays to travel. Just because you already spend most of your time traveling doesn’t mean that you can’t travel even more! Take the time to explore a new city or hit up the slopes/beach. Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery to reduce the holiday homesickness. If you don’t want to travel to a totally new place, go on a day trip outside of your host city and discover how they celebrate the holidays in the countryside.
Coordinate a visit with family/friends
Most people jump at the chance to visit their children or friends while they’re studying abroad, so try to convince your parents/friends/significant other to visit you. The holidays are also a great time to meet up with friends from high school or college who are studying abroad in the same region. Being with people from home will definitely reduce homesickness, as well as create a combination of excitement from your host country and comfort from your friends or family.
When all else fails, don’t forget that you are in a new country! The holidays occur every year and while it might seem like you’re missing out on everything, keep in mind that the holidays will come again and you will be home soon. Your time abroad, however, will only last for so long and chances are it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is normal to feel homesick around the holidays, but don’t let it ruin the unique and life-changing experience you are having. Happy holidays!