Are you spending the holidays abroad? That joyful time of the season when friends and family gather together to celebrate and honor their traditions. When delicious feasts are prepared, gifts are exchanged but most importantly quality time is spent together. This can be quite difficult to imagine when you’re 5000 miles away from home in another country. You become increasingly aware of the distance and the things you think you’re missing out on. This in turn can instill feelings of sadness, loneliness and homesickness. There’s no doubt that the holiday season is a sentimental time of the year particularly if you are away from it all. So if you’re abroad for the holidays and going home is not an option, here are helpful suggestions that can help you overcome these feelings.
Learn to Embrace your Host Country’s Traditions
Part of integrating and adapting to a new country is embracing the culture and traditions. Each holiday is done differently around the world and now you have the opportunity to learn and experience things in a new way! For instance, during the New Years in the Netherlands you eat a delicious fried bread sprinkled with powdered sugar called oliebollen (similar to a beignet but arguably tastier). While you have to wait a whole year to eat them, it is most certainly worth the wait. Have you also been to Christmas markets in Europe? They are like stunning winter wonderlands with live music, beautiful decorations, delicious stalls and the best of them all – gluhwein (mulled wein). You may be missing home but embracing the country’s traditions make for a special holiday season.
Recreate the Holidays Abroad
The saying goes true that there really is no place like home for the holidays. So why not recreate that where you are now living? Make that family dish you always do around Thanksgiving or spend time carving a pumpkin when it’s Halloween. A fond memory is around Christmas time in the Netherlands: although the Netherlands doesn’t celebrate Christmas as largely as the States does, we bought a tree one year and decorated it. It’s one of the happiest moments I’ve had during the holidays abroad and all feelings of homesickness were instantly gone. Even though you’re physically miles apart, recreating the holidays can connect you closer to your family, friends and traditions.
Volunteer your Time
One of the best feelings in the world is giving back to others. Why not spend the holidays helping your community and those in need? Whether it’s helping your local school, the food bank, delivering meals or animal shelter, volunteering even the smallest of assignments can make a difference. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new people, connect with others and make friends which can help with homesickness and loneliness. Volunteering is a great experience that can provide a new perspective and insight into the world beyond what you know.
Celebrate with International Friends
You will find that there are many expats and internationals that are in the same boat as you: far away from home and feeling a bit down during this time of year. Instead of succumbing to the holiday blues get your international and local friends together and celebrate the holidays like you do back home. It’s a great way to bond about being in a similar situation and even make way for new friendships. When I was living in Paris, friends from my master’s program threw a Christmas party and invited everyone over to bring a dish from the country they came from. That night we each got to learn about each other’s cultures, traditions and develop deeper friendships while creating new memories.
Use Technology to Connect with Loved Ones
We have access to so many different technologies that can easily connect you to anyone around the world. When you’re feeling homesick, call or app your friends and family. Seeing and hearing from them will instantly boost your mood and make you feel a little less homesick. A nice tip that will really liven your spirits is writing a handmade letter from the heart. When they receive your letter they will cherish the fact that you sent it from such a distance away and put a smile on their face.
Practice Gratitude and Appreciation
Remind yourself that living abroad can be a privilege and a wonderful opportunity that some never experience. There are many who wish they were in your position to live in another country and immersing themselves into the language and culture. Don’t take it for granted and try to think about what you appreciate most about being here as well as back home. I find that keeping a journal and writing these things down really changes your mindset for the better.
Relax and Take it Easy When Spending the Holidays Abroad
Don’t hang yourself up about not being home, instead take it easy. Put on some soothing music, and practice a self care routine. Order your favorite foods, put on a movie, grab a glass of champagne and dive into a delicious dessert. There is no reason you should stay sad during the holidays; remember to always be kind to yourself.
Home is Where You Choose to Make it Home
Expats and internationals tend to emotionally connect to where friends and family are. It’s a beautiful familiarity that will stick no matter where you go in the world. However, don’t let that harbor you from making the country you are in, comfortably yours. Make peace with yourself and accept that you are here; that it’s possible to be equally home in this place too. I used to get a bit depressed around this time of year when I was abroad, thinking of all the family and events I missed. However, coming to terms of acceptance really put my mind and perceptions at ease. I now appreciate more of what I have back in California and equally here in the Netherlands. Like they say, home is anywhere the heart is, right?
Final Thoughts about the Holidays Abroad as an Expat
When living abroad it’s natural to feel homesick, however, the holidays are a crucial time where we expats tend to feel it most. Know that it’s okay to feel a bit down and that the best thing you can do for yourself is accept the situation. Always be kind to yourself and wherever you are in the world I hope that these tips can help you have a better holiday.