A Guide To Holidays Away from Home

Your first few months abroad are going to be exciting. You’ll be meeting so many new people, names and faces will begin to get mixed up. You’ll have trouble remembering the names of delicious foods you eat, but will somehow pick up words and phrases of the foreign language without even trying.

sad gingerbreadmanBetween the new places and experiences that you’ll meet, you’ll be too full of happy jitters and joy that you’ll kind of just forget to be homesick. (At least that’s how I felt when I first arrived in Asia two years ago, but everyone’s experience is different.)

It’s not going to be around late fall and early winter that those tiny little pangs of homesickness start to prick your heart and tummy. Don’t worry, though. It’s perfectly natural to feel that way, and you have this handy guide to help you survive the first fits of homesickness.

Get festive with your classes

Maybe in the country you’re in they don’t celebrate your favorite holiday. That’s ok! Use that absence as a teaching opportunity. Decorate your classroom, plan themed lessons, and have arts and crafts.

Just be sure to clear any plans that might be controversial with your co-teacher or principal first. Doing themed lessons with crafts for Christmas was my absolute favorite week abroad. The kids loved it, and I got my fill of tacky traditions and movies.

Decorate your home

Holiday decorations can usually be found at Daiso in Asia, in Taiwan Carrefour is a Christmas gold mine. Don’t underestimate the power of a cheerful and festive apartment. Some days I’d come home after a long and cold day, and be instantly cheered up when I walked into my apartment to find my little Christmas tree, wreath, and lights.

Make your personal space as comfortable and cozy as possible. Click To Tweet Try not to fall into the trap of avoiding decorating because you’re just going to be there a year anyway. Your apartment vibe can make all the difference in your attitude abroad.

Find comfort foods

Nearly every country has a specialty foods store that carries imported foods and drinks. So, head out and stock up on all of your favorite guilty pleasures. (Taiwan even has a giant Costco with tons of familiar western food and drink brands.)

If you can’t find something particular, ask a friend to send you something from home or do a little online research and see if you can’t get it through iHerb or similar online retailers. During the holidays I spent abroad, boxes and boxes of mac-n-cheese and chicken noodle soup saw me through my cold Netflix binging days.

Skype your friends and family

Make sure that you ask your friends and family to carve out a little time on holidays to catch up with you. Just be sure that you’re engaged in learning about what’s going on in their lives too.

Don’t be singing your homesickness woes to your friends and family the entire conversation while ignoring them and their lives.

Spend time with new families and friends

If you’ve made native friends, ask if you can spend time with them to see how they celebrate special holidays. If they don’t celebrate the holiday you’re missing, see if you can’t try to recreate it for them as best as you can.

Last year my friend’s parents from America came over and cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal for the Taiwanese staff. Not everything was exactly as it would’ve been back home, but it was fun, delicious, and lots of laughs were had.

Head to expat thriving areas

On holidays head out to places where there will be lots of other expats. You’ll all be in the same boat being so far from home on special days, so people are more likely to chat you up. And, it can be really calming to be surrounded by the chattering of groups of people in a language you can understand.

Just try not to eavesdrop too much. I got caught doing that all the time when English finally surrounded me. Stalking like that isn’t exactly the best way to make new friends, so try to avoid my mistake…no matter how juicy the gossip is or how loud they’re talking next to you.

Calling all expats, how did you handle the holidays during your first year abroad? Is there any advice you can offer to new expats who are a little homesick? What did you find most helpful to get through the holidays? Let us know in the comments below. 

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