I won’t be home for Christmas: a foreign student’s holiday

JESSICA RUF

jnruf15@ole.augie.edu

There’s no place like home for the holidays, until home is over a thousand miles away. And for international students, that is often the case. Unlike most Augustana students, who need only drive a short way down the highway, international students often face expensive airline tickets overseas, which can easily soar into the $1,000 to $2,000 price range. image4 (1).png

For this reason, many students find themselves celebrating the holiday season on a quiet—often too quiet—campus. 

“For Christmas, there is no one here,” said senior Neeshma Ramdhun. “There is literally no one.”

Yet, despite being surrounded by empty dorm rooms and far from family, the few students who do remain on campus work to keep the holiday blues at bay. Ramdhun said many will create their own festivities by gathering together with friends. 

For instance, this past Thanksgiving break, Ramdhun, Alessandra Abel, Lea Vilone, Hermela Mulugeta, Tim Bai Li and Giang Tran enjoyed a holiday meal together in the Balcer Apartments on 33rd and Summit. 

With afrobeats playing in the background, they mashed, baked and cooked for five hours until they showcased their own Thanksgiving feast of Sriracha-honey chicken, vegetables and mashed potatoes—complete with apple pie and ice cream, of course. Content and high on holiday cheer, they finished the night by watching Criminal Minds

Meanwhile, many of Augustana’s Ethiopian students threw their own “Friendsgiving.” Inside East Hall, they shared a massive pan of lasagna together and hung out in the dayroom, talking and taking turns on the piano.

“We try to make a family away from home while here,” Ekram Wehabrebi, a senior Ethiopian student, said. “It’s the people that make it feel like a holiday, so the more people you have the more it feels like a holiday.”

When it comes to Christmas, students will spend time with their host families, explore other parts of the United States or gather with friends again. For some, however, the flight home is worth the expense, especially when Christmas is a cherished holiday in their family.

During her freshman year, Dennisse Alcivar stayed in the United States for Christmas, but immediately regretted her decision.

“I cried the entire night because we had such different traditions,” Alcivar said. “I went to New York with my other family—they’re from Ecuador—but it was still so different. They celebrate in more of an American way.”image9 (2)

Now, each year, Alcivar flies home where she and her family celebrate their own Christmas traditions by preparing a turkey, watching fireworks and waiting for Santa to come at midnight. 

Christmas may only be two days, but holiday break is typically three weeks long. With classes not in session, limited-to-no dining service hours and an absence of UBG events not filling in blocks on the calendar, students in the dorms will face a question rarely asked on campus: What to do with all this time? 

“We always plan to study—that’s the plan,” Wehabrebi said. “But it usually never works out.”

Rather, most students spend their time relishing in doing nothing: bingeing on Netflix, playing video games, hanging out with friends and taking the occasional shopping trip (more often to Walmart for food and supplies than the mall).

Staying on Augustana’s campus may not be the same as going home, but host families, road trips, dorm-made meals and Netflix binges can help keep the spirit bright.