The holiday season is synonymous with love. You build closer and stronger bonds with your family during the festivities and share 14 blissful and (usually) stress-free days. You wake up to the smell of home-cooked food, perhaps freshly baked cookies or bread. You laze around in your home; you walk from the kitchen to the living room, your room to your parents’ room, and the dining table to the TV. The amount of free time you suddenly have is striking, normally used up to focus on your loved ones, yourself, and your family traditions.
I have not experienced this for the last two years, like most international students. We spend our holidays trying to build a home from scratch. We look for our foundation through our closest friends in the semester. We find the familiarity of our homes in our locked dorms and houses during testing winters. The cement that is meant to uphold our home is reliant on our ability to feel comfort in a foreign land. By the end of it, there isn’t enough time to decorate our home with feelings of love, joy, and warmth; we have spent the 14 stress-free days on surviving the loneliness of the holiday season. Busy keeping ourselves strong and guarded, the holiday season passes international students in reminiscence of what it used to be.
While seeing everyone else with their families does not fuel hatred, it exhausts us. We are constantly reminded of what we don’t have. It stings to be reminded of our state of helplessness.
Every time I go to a grocery store and see a family pick out icing, sugar, eggs, and chocolate, I can’t help but hold back tears. My mother and I have—or used to have—a tradition of baking cookies and cakes together. We would spend hours in the kitchen, peeking into the oven and cleaning up after my spills and messes. I miss the taste tests my father would conduct, quizzing us as if he was a MasterChef judge. Looking back at memories leaves me in a pensive mood. It makes me appreciate the old days, knowing I can’t recreate them.
Mike Rowe said it best, “I’m looking forward to the future, and feeling grateful for the past.” Gratefulness or gratitude is something that I have learned in the holiday season.
Along with overwhelming feelings of frustration, sadness, and despair, gratitude was taught to me. I realized that my negative feelings came from a place of thankfulness for what I already had. The only step is to look forward and admire the opportunity I have to build a home with the people around me. It sounds sad, but every international student is more or less in the same boat, just waiting to connect and build a safe space for all of us. We all can build a foundation, familiarity, and comfort while cherishing the past.