To be honest, I am not a big fan of Christmas. In my family it is not really a big deal, plus I hate cold weather. Two reasons why I thought I wouldn´t have a lot of problems being in a tropical paradise around this time of year. I was excited to experience such a big event in a different country/culture, and I was excited for not having to spend it in the actual winter. But in reality I thought the time around Christmas to be much harder and in all honesty, it might have been the only time I actually felt homesick. Here are some reasons why Christmas for many students might be the hardest time to be abroad
#1 It´s a family thing
Like I mentioned, yes, Christmas is usually celebrated with family, and although I did not actively missed my family during my exchange as I was just too busy with other things, not spending Christmas with them did feel a little weird. Suddenly I felt nostalgic over all the drama that usually comes with the last days of December.
You don´t even have to be a family person to miss your family during Christmas, which would make it all the harder for those who do actively miss their family. Being with a new family that probably still feels too new to really feel the same comfort with as at home, not having this ´tradition´ to look forward to, which can make it a hard time of year
#2 It doesn´t feel like ´ Christmas´
Yes, you know it´s going to be different, but you still have this expectations of a feeling you always get, so when it´s 30 degrees warmer outside or your family doesn´t have a Christmas tree, it might not ‘feel´ like that celebration you usually love to much, and it´s hard to get into something when you are not ´feeling it´.
#3 It comes at the worst time of your exchange
Depending on when you leave for your exchange, Christmas usually comes in the middle of an exchange. This means you have probably already gotten used to your host country. Everything feels normal, to the degree it starts getting boring. Your host family starts to feel like real family, to the degree that you are starting to feel little annoyances with them.
In the Cultural Adjustment Cycle, you would commonly find yourself in stage 4 now, where you have overcome the initial adjustment and are now getting to know the deeper issues of a culture.
For those who have not seen it during their orientation camps, culture is often compared to an iceberg. There are a lof of obvious things that everyone can see. The way people dress, eat, etc. These things are strange at first, and you have to get used to them, but they are also quite easy to accept.
But any iceberg, as we all know, is much larger underwater than above the water, which means there are many many more things that we don´t see. Those things are not only harder to see, they also go way deeper into someone´s way of thinking. Eating might be a fairly easy thing to change, but things such as hand gestures might be so unconscious they are way harder to address.
And to continue the iceberg metaphor, icebergs are more likely to clash ´underwater´.
Without making this post too preachy; it is normal to have a little dip during this Christmas period. It is in fact part of your cultural assimilation (and means that you are on track). Believe me, I had a period where I hated everything about my host country. I wasn´t necessarily feeling homesick, but I was also not understanding the local culture which was extremely frustrating. But in the end, it passed, and without trying to claim I now ‘fully understand´ my host culture, bit by bit you will start accepting, understanding and appreciating it more.
But for now, good luck in these hard times and I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Note; These experiences are generalized and are not the same for everyone. If you are having a great time and are feeling none of these issues at all, I am really happy for you 🙂