International students who are not going home for the winter break often find themselves feeling lonely or homesick, especially as many of their American friends leave to spend time with their families for the holidays. But international students can minimize such feelings by taking the following steps.
1. Find other students who are staying for the holidays: Almost all American students go home to spend the week of Christmas with their family and do not come back to campus until after the New Year begins. International students staying on campus can find it to be eerily quiet.
However, you are not alone. There are usually other international students who are also spending the winter break away from home.
Connect with other international students now to see who else will be around during the semester break and plan to spend time together. You can even plan a Christmas or New Year's Eve potluck party or watch movies with each other. Don't forget to include classic winter snacks like hot chocolate, s'mores and cookies.
[Find ways to make U.S. holidays a learning experience.]
2. Get a care package together: Another way for international students to avoid feeling lonely is to surround themselves with things that remind them of home. If possible, request a care package from home with something from each member of your family.
If that is not possible, create your own care package by putting together food, movies, candy, chocolate and little gifts – enough to see you through Christmas until the New Year.
Since food is hard to send across international borders, my family sent me a photo album each winter with special moments captured throughout the year. My 3-year-old nephew sent me a few handmade cards each year, and my brother picked out books for me to read.
My mother sent a sweater or scarf that she had knit herself. My sister-in-law sent me DVDs to watch. The care package from home made me feel connected to everyone even though I was far away.
[Check out how technology can help students connect to home.]
3. Volunteer at a charity: Taking time to help those who are less fortunate can help international students keep loneliness and homesickness at bay during the holidays. Helping those in need makes people feel good.
Soup kitchens serve Christmas meals to community members in need and are always in need of volunteers to help cook and serve food. Animal shelters too appreciate extra help during the holiday season because there are fewer visitors, meaning adoptable cats and dogs don't have as many people to play with them.
[Learn about the advantages of volunteering as an international student.]
4. Make concrete plans for Christmas and New Year's Eve: International students remaining on campus for the winter break often make the mistake of having too much unstructured time. Large chunks of free time can make one feel abandoned and adrift – especially if you are already feeling blue.
An easy way to avoid this is by having specific activities planned for the holidays. Is there a party at your school's international students office that you are considering attending?
Are there special decorations in a certain part of the city? Call a friend and set out to see them. If you are considering brunch on Christmas morning, decide exactly what time you want to go and commit to it.
Just because international students may be alone on campus during the winter break does not mean they need to feel lonely. Often international students find a new type of family – a family forged out of friendship and kindness – and make their college town a home away from home.
Swati B. Carr, from India, is currently pursuing her doctorate in synthetic biology at Boston University and advises prospective international students. She first came to the U.S. as an international student for her master's in microbial genetics from the University of Rhode Island.