December 3, 2018, by John

La navidad – Spending Christmas as an international student

It’s Christmas. It’s cold. Outside us, the snow is thick. Here, there are only 4 hours of sunlight, from 11am to 3pm before night falls. I end up having to wear 5 layers of clothes each day, together with frequent push-ups, to keep my body warm. Each day, before we arrive home, we pass by beautiful, cosy homes, cloaked in white. Warm lights emerge from within. Through the windows, we see a couple stand side-by-side, looking down at a pot, working together on a meal.

We are living in an Airbnb. But when we first arrived, we realised we were staying in a converted shed. There is no shower. There is only a toilet.

There is nothing special about the day. We cook spaghetti, with tomato sauce taken from the cupboard. We are not sure who left it, but we are thankful that they did, because we are quickly running out of money after the expensive prices at the supermarket. We use the last of our smoked mackerel.

My friend and I share the small pot of spaghetti, scrapping the last of the sauce left in the pot. Our plan to travel for Christmas didn’t seem that wise after all.

This is Iceland.  

It’s Christmas. Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around us when we meet at Sainsbury’s. No transport is available, so my friend and I take an Uber taxi to the home of our host.

There, she welcomes us warmly, hugging us tightly. She invites us to sit at the table, before she starts serving the food. There is a bowl of carrot soup, and the warm aroma comforts our stomachs. We say a short prayer before we start eating.

Then comes the roast. Then comes the pudding. Then comes the food coma. We move to the sofa to rest our bellies. There is much laughter as we read the horrible jokes that come out of the Christmas crackers. We later take out the Jenga to make sure we still have our sense of balance. We yell in disbelief when the Jenga finally falls.

It’s time to go home. Stomachs full, hearts warmed, and feeling loved, we are driven back to our home by our host.

This is Nottingham.

Spending Christmas as an international student can be lonely. What are your plans this Christmas? Do you have none? There is hope. Here is how.

  1. Plan something!

As much as you and I like to be invited to things, rather than planning something for ourselves, Christmas calls for a little more initiative. So, this Christmas, if you have no plans, make one! Why not invite your friends over for a meal? Spending the time to cook for them, clean for them, and simply love them, will be deeply heart-warming on a cold winter’s day. Or if you are brave, why not ask your friends what they are doing this Christmas, and be thick-skinned to invite yourself over? What is the worst that could happen? If they say no, then let’s try again elsewhere!

  1. Sign up for a hosting scheme.

Friends International run a great scheme where they connect students with local families in Nottingham. These families will then invite you regularly to their homes for meals. It’s worth giving it a try. You can sign up to be hosted here.

  1. Go to church.

The story of Christmas is a story of Jesus’ birth on Earth. Christians all around the world use Christmas as an opportunity to remind themselves of Christ’s coming. If you are struggling to find something to do this Christmas, you can be sure that there will be something held at your local church. So why not head down, and find out why Christmas means more than mince pies, roast meats, and mulled wines? It is also a good way to find company, hear carols, and have more mince pies!

Spending Christmas alone in the UK can be difficult. But as long as you are willing to take some initiative, life doesn’t need to be that miserable.

Posted in John