Today, I’m writing from a different perspective – my perspective – in hopes that it will offer international students who are contemplating leaving their home for higher education or who are already there, some comfort.
I’m not writing about personal details but am writing in a humanistic way to show you that those of us who work in the education sector have a lot of the same feelings that you do. It’s our job and responsibility to keep a poker face and talk about what you should or shouldn’t do to study abroad but we are also human too. In fact, we even go through some of the feelings that you, yourself are going through.
Today, that feeling is homesickness during the holidays.
I was originally thinking that I would write about all of the different cultural holidays around this time of year. There are many to talk about and many opinions people have of the other’s holiday.
Then I realized what good does that really do for anyone educationally? It’s a nice write-up that perhaps next year we can write about and have some fun with but this year, I want to write about the hardest part all students who approach me have: Leaving their families behind.
With all of that said, it’s pretty obvious by now that I am a foreigner working in Pakistan. I enjoy many of the things about this country such as the people, the culture, the dress, the history and much more. It’s a country filled with hospitality and kind-heartedness that you don’t see in every country and it’s amazing!
There are things that are hard to enjoy but I’m pretty sure that’s an all around, local feeling with people and not just because I’m a foreigner. Things like electricity outages, no water and the scary stuff that puts fear as a normalcy in our lives.
Regardless, as an American foreigner, I celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, two of which are the biggest holidays we celebrate back home – much like your Ramadan Eid and Bakra Eid. These are my huge holidays and the times I miss home the most.
During this time, it’s very hard not to think about all the fun my family and friends back home are having. The cozy, warm houses decorated with lights and smell of the cookies and cakes our parents are baking well in advance while the rest of us sit talking and drinking hot chocolate, sneaking hot cookies off the rack.
We have snow during our winters and always wish for it to fall on Christmas morning so that it looks picture perfect – just like it does in all of the Christmas movies we watch over and over.
We talk with each other about presents we’re getting, find the best hiding places where siblings and parents can’t find them and then brag which person got the best gift for their present receiver.
It’s the time of year that the biggest cultural customs kick in. They’re instilled in us from the moment we’re born. These are the moments we spend the rest of our lives with the earliest memories being these holidays and all the fun we’ve had. It’s what we’re familiar with and what we know…and it’s easily missed when far away from home.
Right now, as I write this, I think of my family who has put up the huge Christmas tree and have Christmas music playing while adding ornaments and tinsel to the tree while my dad tries to keep steady on a ladder to staple lights along the outside of the house.
During our free time, there’s lots of shopping done by us for our co-workers, friends and families because this is the holiday where we (hopefully, anyway) show our appreciation and love for others by not thinking of ourselves. We share stories of the hilarious mishaps of last year or our plans of how Christmas morning will play out this year.
It’s my culture and I miss it. While I love what I do over here, I can’t help but feel the homesickness hit the strongest until this time of year comes around.
What I can do is try to celebrate my holiday quietly during my time here. Christmas specifically, I travel to the stores that do sell Christmas items and fully decorate my house and make it look as cozy as possible.
I buy my colleagues and those I’m close with presents or teach them how to play Secret Santa so that I can fill my Christmas tree with presents underneath it. I try to find all the foods we have back home during the holiday and while that works out pretty well, someone here must love pumpkin pie more than I do because it’s always sold out!
But aside from the missing pumpkin pie, I carry on with my Christmas celebration. I have everyone over and we have a fantastic dinner and lots of great memories and times together. Those who’ve never seen these celebrations are intrigued and ask many questions which make me feel happy and proud inside to talk about my culture and home country.
The bottom line is, I can either lay in bed and cry all day or I can make it become the best experience as it can be during my time here! I’ve found that by staying completely engrossed in the holiday spirit with music on internet radios, decorations and preparation, I am happy and I know it’s only a temporary period of time until I see my family again.
Celebrating Christmas in a foreign country is a great experience to take back home with me and share with my family and friends. The kinds of friends and cultural twists having been made to my holiday make it all the more challenging, fun and give me some pretty awesome memories!
When it’s all said and done, I’m happy. I still miss my family deeply but I’m happy and satisfied that I was able to create new and unique memories to share with others. Christmas has gone by and the emotional time has been well spent on preparation, cooking, shopping and celebrating as it could have possibly been.
Homesickness is natural, it’s human and there’s nothing wrong with it. Just some advice from one foreigner to another (or soon-to-be other), enjoy your holiday – get creative and celebrate it to the fullest!
Then, of course, there’s New Years right after Christmas and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it doesn’t matter which country you’re in, there’s always a party somewhere! There isn’t often a feeling of homesickness as with other sentimental holidays so for that, I’m not even concerned about and am looking forward to another great time!
Until next year, 2012, for those of you here who do celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas and to everyone else, Happy upcoming New Year!