I spent my first holiday, away from my parents and siblings, with my German exchange students family. It was lonely, despite being welcomed with open arms by his family. The traditions seemed odd, despite the hours of study and discussion I’d had over the years about German culture and tradition during the holiday season. It was depressing, despite all of the fun I had hanging out with my exchange brother, his family, and friends. Overall, it was a very odd holiday season.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannaka, Kwanza, New Years are all holidays where the importance of family, home, and being close to family and friends. It’s hard to get in the holiday spirit, when you have no family to go “home” to, and don’t want to spend your semester break recovering from jet lag or in busy crowded airport lines.
To add to the lack of close family and friends, traditions in America will assuredly be different than those you might be used to. It could be a simple difference, such as not having a Christmas market downtown, or as drastic as normally not celebrating Christmas or understanding the customs around you. Going home with an American friend, while a great experience and a lot of fun, isn’t the same as being home with your family and friends, in settings you grew up around.
Like regular homesickness, there is no fix-all cure for holiday-homesickness. Even if you don’t celebrate the same holidays, it could be a lonely time. Most school dorms shut down for the two to four week semester break, and almost everyone goes home. Plan what you are going to do ahead of time, so like your American-classmates, you have plans to look forward too. Share your customs with your friends, and they might be open to incorporating some of them in with their own.
Overall, though, enjoy the experience of being abroad during the holidays. While it can feel alienating and lonely, it’s an experience most people don’t get the chance to experience. Take in the differences, understand them, and relish the time you have abroad.
Elissa Yonkers is a recent graduate from Bowling Green State University, with a Bachelors of Science of Journalism with a focus on Public Relations, and a very strong minor in German. With several internship experiences under her belt, she is looking to widen her experience and knowledge with a job in corporate communications, public affairs, or work in a public relations agency. Connect with her here: http://sites.google.com/site/elissay/