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All I want for Christmas… is to go home

By Ida Akerstedt Dec 12, 2015
Alessandra celebrated Christmas with friends last year. Photo: Facebook

The last weeks of the term are a stressful time, but for most students there is a light at the end of the tunnel – namely the Christmas break where they can go home to see their friends and family again.

However, some students do not have that luxury. So what do the international students who are forced to spend Christmas alone in halls or an empty flat by themselves do? How do they survive this season, supposedly ‘the most wonderful time of the year’?

Third year KU music student, Alessandra Morris, who is originally from Peru, rarely gets to see her own family or go home during the  holidays. Whilst at University she has spent all of her Christmas holidays in the UK, unable to afford the trip home.

For her first Christmas break in 2013, she stayed in her bright yellow and unwelcoming room in Clayhill halls of residence.

“The majority of people do not have to fly 16 hours to see their families. I remember that Christmas break as a bit depressing because nobody was in Clayhill, everyone was with their families,” says Morris.

Luckily for Morris, a friend from her course invited her to spend Christmas with her family in Essex.

Morris says: “ I watched a lot of English TV, but it ended up being a nice break.”

For her second year at University, Morris moved to central London with a friend. She did not go home for this break either, and thought she would end up alone during the festivities.

“I made some plans with some friends, but they cancelled last minute. I honestly thought I was going to spend Christmas alone,” says Morris.

And whilst her friends were in their homes, surrounded with people they love, Morris was feeling blue. But, when she received an unexpected phone call from a fellow Peruvian in London, she found someone to celebrate with.

“Once again I ended up in the company of a friend,” says Morris. “I think that in London, a lot of people are far away from their families and in the same situation as me.”

Alessandra and her friends celebrating Christmas on December 25 2014.
Alessandra and her friends celebrating Christmas on December 25 2014. Photo: Facebook

Although Morris ended up having a good time with her friends, she explained that celebrating Christmas in Peru is quite different from in the UK. In Peru, it is summertime and very warm.

Morris says: “We celebrate Christmas in Peru with lots of food, family and fireworks. Some people go to the beach.

“We celebrate on Christmas Eve and have dinner at midnight. It’s tradition. In my family we eat and have a lovely and quiet, but warm, evening with food, peace and the company of the people we love.”

Morris wishes to be with her family and celebrate with them this upcoming holiday, but is positive about staying in London. She believes that living far away from home “makes you grow as a person” and gives you perspective.

Morris says: “A lot of people are far away from their families and in the same situation as me, so people will try to get together.

“I miss my family but I know that even from a distance, I am with them. They Skype me on Christmas Eve and call me during the holiday.”

Furthermore, there is an increasing interest amongst organisations to urge British families to invite international students for a lovely Christmas meal during the holidays.

Kingston University is one of many educational institutions that have subscribed to HOST, a British organisation that works towards giving international students a taste of British culture by engaging with British families.

British families can apply to be a HOST family during Christmas, and international students who are spending Christmas alone can apply for a Christmas dinner invitation via the University.

“The HOST scheme is a good opportunity for international students to experience British culture,” says Kimberley Brough, Deputy Chief Executive at HOST.

“Since the HOST scheme is unpaid, the British families who apply are genuinely interested in learning about the international students and other cultures as well.”

Brough explained that the organisation has already received about 900 applications from international students, but that unfortunately “there are more students than hosts”.

Third year KU sustainable development student, Avishka Sendanayake, 21, is not going home to Sri Lanka this Christmas. This will be the first time she is not with her family during the holiday.

However, Sendanayake is not staying in the UK because she cannot afford a flight ticket – she just wants to experience the Christmas celebrations in the UK.

“I have never stayed in England during Christmas and new year so I wanted to experience it this year,” says Sendanayake.

Sendanayake will spend parts of the holiday with family friends in central London. An although she will miss her family back home, they came to see her not long ago.

“They came to visit me in October for my birthday so it’s not too bad. I also spent the whole summer in Sri Lanka,” says Sendanayake.

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