A white Christmas isn’t everyone’s dream during the holidays. While many international students enjoy studying in Halifax, it can be challenging to cope without family and friends during the break.
“This time is difficult,” said Oyshee Saha Roy, who is studying for a master’s in computer science at Dalhousie University. “It has been a long year of not having seen my family and friends.” She said it’s “very expensive” to travel back home. Although she misses her family, she plans on making the most of her Christmas break by spending time with friends here.
Cynthia Murphy, Director of Dal’s International Centre, seconds this notion that it’s “really expensive to go home,” especially during the holidays. She also pointed out that that for some students, there is “nowhere to go but here.” Therefore, Murphy said, the International Centre wants to “create this welcoming community environment.”
She advises students to “stay connected to people and not to let themselves be isolated.” And the International Centre hosts multiple events over the break.
“Last year at the Christmas Eve event, everybody who attended joined a WhatsApp group, and then they were all making plans for other days during the holidays, which was great,” said Murphy.
Take it from personal experience
These events are a good way for international students to meet new friends. Industrial engineering student Ashwin Girikumar said “it was a pleasure to meet new people” at the holiday events last year, he enjoyed meeting people who “also have the same experiences as me.”
Girikumar thought it was a great opportunity to get involved with the International Centre. “I would advise the other students who are forced to stay in Halifax during the break … to visit the International Student Centre and come to the events,” he said. “They will really enjoy it. It is a great way of meeting people.” He also suggested students “apply for their driving license” and to do “any other official work” over the break.
Reetam Taj has the same idea in mind, as he intends to create a balance between doing research for school and visiting one of his friend’s houses where they will “have fun and spend Christmas together.”
Tanaka Shumba is also becoming accustomed to Canadian Christmases, as this will be her third. “Christmas for me doesn’t mean white snow,” she said. Rather, “it is something that, for the longest time, I would celebrate with my family.”
“Christmas does not mean as much to me anymore,” continued Shumba. She has attended a holiday dinner hosted by the International Centre, and while it made her feel better, it still doesn’t compare to a traditional Christmas dinner back home in Zimbabwe.
One Dal student, who asked not to be identified, said that this will be her second Christmas in Halifax and that although her experiences have not been “terribly bad,” they have not been “terribly good,” either. She mentioned that some students have commented on the lack of food service in residence during the holidays and said that even a “continental breakfast” would be helpful, so that international students in residence are not having to buy so many groceries.
Brandon Randall, Projects and Program Coordinator at the International Centre, sympathises with this, and continued to promote the events that the International Centre hosts, where food is provided. He said students are “stuck ordering food in, most of the time,” but sometimes they’ll cook together. “They have kitchen kits in residence that they lend out, so they have pots and pans and plates.”
Conversely, computer science student Masood Ali is excited to experience a traditional Canadian Christmas celebration, as he has been “invited to a friend’s home to share their family’s ham.” He said Christmas is not as big in India, so he does not mind staying in Halifax.
“There are a lot of students that do not celebrate Christmas or do not have a holiday around this time,” said Randall. “If they go home, their families are still working and going through their day-to-day lives.”
Randall also recognized that “although it is mostly international students … there is a handful of Canadian students that choose to stay” in Halifax, which the centre also supports during the holidays.
The International Centre staff hopes to have even more events available to students this year. Murphy expects that there will be “the same or more” students staying and has already been approached about the schedule of events for this year. She reflected on the comments of one student who said that they want an event “every day of the holidays.”
More information about holiday events hosted by the International Centre this year can be found on its Facebook page, Dalhousie International Centre.