Too far from home

I won’t be home for Christmas

Photo above: Internationals at student association HOST celebrate Christmas in Groningen
Internationals at student association HOST celebrate Christmas in Groningen
Christmas: it’s all about warm lights, happiness, and eating too much while surrounded by your family. But not everyone can afford to make it home after the last class on Friday. How do you spend the holidays when your family lives on the other side of the world?
By Eva van Renssen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Gabriela Zambrano

Mexico, studies arts, culture, and media here and education in Mexico

‘This is the first time I’m not home for the season. My brother will be, but he has to travel for twelve hours to join my parents for Christmas. I’m sad that we won’t be together, but I’m very grateful that I get to study in Europe. So I’m trying to focus on that.’

‘I’ll be visiting my parents’ friends in the south of France. I don’t know them very well, but they invited me over and it sounded nice. Flying is expensive, so on the way back I’m travelling from city to city. I’m celebrating New Year’s with a friend in Geneva on the way. I always wanted to see more of Europe.’

Zachary Ruan

China, doing a master in theology and religious studies

‘Everyone leaves Groningen when the Christmas holidays start. Even non-Dutch students visit their families when they get the chance. Many Chinese students fly home during the holidays as well. Not because we celebrate Christmas that enthusiastically; it’s not even an official holiday. But most of them miss their family and have a hard time getting used to Western culture.’

 I’ll probably work on my papers on the 25th

‘I can’t visit my parents this year. Two weeks is too short for such a long journey. My parents are sad to see me less, but they have started encouraging me to emigrate to the West.’

‘Christmas is everywhere in Groningen, which I love. Celebrations and decorations are everywhere. On Christmas Eve I’m attending a dinner at an international church.’

‘Christmas Day and Boxing Day are more of a problem, because that’s when families celebrate among themselves. I don’t think I’ll be invited anywhere. I’ll probably work on my papers on the 25th. I have several deadlines right after the holidays.’

Bernard Brouwer

India, third-year physics student

‘I’m doing volunteer work and then I’m visiting my brother in Maastricht. I might join a family he knows. Like a sixth wheel, so to speak. We normally have a family dinner or celebrate Christmas some other way. My family isn’t one hundred percent Indian, so we have a rather Western style of celebrating. “Let it snow”, depending on the temperature outside. Did you know that the Christmas trees in India have hanging branches? They’re difficult to decorate.’

Celebrating Christmas without your family is like being single on Valentine’s Day: You don’t have to buy into it

‘Indians don’t care about Christmas very much: “Oh Christmas, that’s a thing that Christians do”. There’s no real Christmas vibe, unlike in Groningen. It’s a shame that it’s so commercial, but I kind of like it. And I love that there are so many projects dedicated to charity. Also, the snow is just amazing.’

Joanna Ashok

‘an Indian from Malaysia’, third-year student of chemical engineering

‘During my first year I practically only knew European internationals. The holidays in Groningen were kind of lonely because of that. So we gathered everyone who had stayed in Groningen for a Christmas dinner. We even invited random people I’d overheard in the pub saying they were spending Christmas here.’

 I cooked meals for one and watched YouTube videos

‘That was a lot of fun, but the city felt so empty in the weeks afterwards. I got ill and all I did was cook for one and watch YouTube videos.’

‘We don’t celebrate Christmas the way Americans do; we go to church and order in nice food. So that’s not a reason in and of itself to go home. But I’d love to go home and be around my family. I miss them more than usual during this time of year.’

‘Fortunately, the holidays will be better this year. Over the past few years I’ve created my own family with other international students. We’ve kind of created our own, new culture, and with it we’ve created beautiful traditions and memories.’


What can people do when they’re alone for Christmas? How can they survive the holidays?

Joanna: ‘Your first Groningen Christmas can be tough, especially if you don’t have a community yet. But it gets easier as soon as you make friends, and then it can be downright fantastic! You get to celebrate Christmas with people from all around the world. All the new traditions you learn stay with you your whole life. So go for it.’

Gabriela: ‘Be glad you have the opportunity to be here. And don’t forget all the friends you have made here! You should take every opportunity to smile and laugh. Just try to make the best of it.’

Bernard: ‘Visit a German Christmas market and drink some mulled wine. Bourtange is a lot of fun. They’re open until the 23rd of December. Or go to the Christmas dinner at the Vineyard Church. And you can always do some charity work.’

Zachary: ‘Please keep in mind that supermarkets are closed on Christmas. They’re also closed on New Year’s Day, by the way. So buy enough food.’

Bernard: ‘Realise that celebrating Christmas without your family is like being single on Valentine’s Day: You don’t have to buy into it. Just do what you would do during any holiday.’

Joanna: ‘Please make sure you’re not alone. You’re not the only person in Groningen around Christmas! I have gotten to know so many great people at my church and at HOST, my international student association. No one should be alone during Christmas. Go look for other people, or come find us.’


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