Are you an international student missing out on your “home holiday seasons” and family this year? Read on to meet some of U of T’s own international students, and their tips on how to deal with missing family, friends and holiday traditions while studying at university.
Q1. What holiday with your family do you miss because of your studies at U of T?
K: Christmas time. This is the only holiday the entire year that everyone in my family can get together. My older sisters left for school well before I got to university and so it’s really special when we are able to all be together, and I have really fond memories of Christmas time when I was younger.
L: Thanksgiving, and I say that only because I doubt my birthday counts.
C: I miss New Year’s Eve with my family.
Q2. What is your favourite part of that holiday?
K: I miss my mom’s food, and around Christmas time my parents buy a lot of special food for the holiday season, which is something that they don’t do very often. A fun tradition that I miss is when we exchange gifts we play “Bopp-It.” We sit in a circle around the Christmas tree, and we pass around the “Bopp-It,” whoever misses a “bopp” has to hand out the gifts. It allows us to hand out gifts in a really playful way that makes everyone in the family laugh.
L: Number one: Food — heaps of food. Two: Being able to see all my family that I obviously don’t get to see very often. And three: Getting to catch up with that family. Americans go pretty hard for Thanksgiving.
C: Getting ready to start the New Year with my family is something I will really miss this year.
Q3. What was/is the hardest part of missing that season back home and how did you cope?
K: The hardest part is not being there physically. Because I have so many positive memories of Christmas with my family, it’s hard not being there and when I can’t be there with them, it feels kinda empty and I struggle with loneliness around the season. It really sucks knowing that they are celebrating and that I can’t be with them.
During my first year, I had my first Christmas away from Japan. I was cat/house-sitting for my older sister and I remember just sitting with the cat and feeling really sorry for myself. I’ll be honest, I ended up crying. Having my school friends around definitely helped me get through the season.
L: It’s hard because American Thanksgiving falls three months into the school year and that comes with the realization that I’ve gone a lonnnggg time without seeing my family. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to be able to go home for Christmas, so Thanksgiving means I only have to wait another month and a half to see my loved ones.
C: Since Toronto’s time zone is seven hours behind my time zone back home, my family will experience the New Year before me — and without me — so I will miss them.
Q4. What has been your favourite ‘Canadian’ holiday experience during your time studying at U of T?
K: My boyfriend invited me to his traditional Italian Easter celebration during February of my first year. I was the first Japanese person his family had ever shared a big family meal with and at first it was a little overwhelming to be meeting so many new people — but as I got comfortable, I realized how awesome and fun having such a big extended family could be. And the food was amazing.
L: To be honest, American holidays are pretty similar to Canadian holidays — sadly I miss Canada day because of summer. …Can you put a sad face beside that?
C: Thanksgiving has been my favourite Canadian holiday that I have experienced so far!
Q5. Do you have any tips for other international students missing “home” holiday seasons?
K: I think it really helps having friends around. The more time you spend by yourself, the more time you have to feel lonely and sad. It’s good to distract yourself from the fact that you’re away, and it’s also really helpful to talk with your family and friends back home; tell them you miss them and that you will see them soon.
L: Don’t be afraid to celebrate the holiday you’re missing, even if it’s by yourself and stay in contact with your family. Also if you’re missing holiday vibes in general, reach out to your Canadian friends to see what’s going down for the upcoming Canadian holidays.
C: Make friends especially during frosh week — those are the people who will make you feel like you have found a home away from home. Manage and reserve time to Skype with people from home, but any type of communication works as well — as long as you get to talk! Also, try to participate in campus or residence events, you never know who you might get to meet!