Why the holidays are the worst time of year for some international students


Graphic by Christine Park.

By Xinyan Fu, Columnist

It’s that time of the year. With tree lights dancing and snowflakes swirling, the holiday hype starts with people shopping for Christmas decorations and gifts. College students are getting ready to go home for a long cozy break with their families.

As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Well, for some people, it might be, but the holiday seasons have always been the worst time of the year for me.

I’m not talking about Christmas itself here, but holiday breaks in the United States in general. As an international student, I face the dilemma of choosing whether or not to return home for winter break.

This is a tricky question for me because neither option is ideal. If I choose to go home during the winter break, the plane tickets are going to be quite expensive. The last time I checked the price of a ticket back home for winter vacation, the round trip total reached up to $2,200. Packing could also be a pain if I decided to go home. 

For most of the flights, passengers could only check two bags with each less than 50 pounds for free plus one carry on, which could only be around 20 pounds depending on the airline. The long travel time for flights is another huge drawback. There are no direct flights to my city in Xiamen, China. Usually, the trip will require at least one transfer flight and last more than 20 hours.

Therefore, since I arrived in Boston, I’ve never gone home for winter break. Despite all the drawbacks of going back, the decision is still hard because I need to have a solid plan for 30 days. I have no close relatives living in the U.S., which means I have no place to go after the residence halls are closed. The only options for me are either staying with someone who has an apartment around Boston, or traveling somewhere else to spend the time. However, finding apartments to sublet for only a month is nearly impossible, and most of my friends go home during break. Traveling can also be tough since it requires detailed planning beforehand. 

Even though I choose to stay in the states, spending holiday breaks in the U.S. is weird for me because I do not celebrate most of these holidays back home. We do celebrate Christmas, but it feels more like another excuse to go wild on discounted shopping rather than a serious deal. 

In China, festivals and holidays are a big part of our daily lives. There are eight major traditional festivals—Chinese New Year’s Eve, the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Ghosts Festival, the Moon Festival, and the Winter Solstice. Ever since I came to the U.S. for school, I have had to spend six of the eight festivals on foreign land. The holiday seasons always become the time of the year where the feeling of “not belonging” kicks in. Seeing people celebrate their holidays with families and friends, able to stay in their own cozy room, relaxing for the whole holiday break, makes me both jealous and sad to be 7,644 miles away from home. 

This year, homesickness hits a little harder because the Spring Festival falls on Jan. 25, one of the earliest days of the year that the festival can occur and around the time when schools begin their spring semesters. It is a rare opportunity for students, because usually the Spring Festival is in February instead of January. In fact, the Spring Festival is not going to be in January until 2023. Therefore, this year, the timing gives students more of an incentive to travel back home for vacation. Many students have decided to go home during winter break, and those who stayed missed out even more than usual. 

The feeling of celebrating big festivals at home is different from celebrating them elsewhere, especially for Spring Festival. It has been my favorite time of the year because I get to sit down with my entire family and enjoy a full 15 days of celebration with them. I’m from one of the ethnic groups in ChinaHakka, which means that my family has many unique traditions to celebrate the new year, including “Open the Door,” also known as “Welcome the God of Wealth.” We use fireworks and firecrackers one specific time in the morning of New Year’s Day to welcome another year of wealth and harvest. But now, besides giving my parents a call at noon, there is not much I can do to feel the festivity. 

Last year, my friends and I decided to make Spring Festival a big deal by cooking a whole meal together. We arrived early in the 2B kitchen and stayed there the entire day to prepare. It was a fun day until I saw other students passing by and having weird glances like they don’t know why a bunch of Chinese students are all in the kitchen looking happy. At that moment, although I was surrounded by my friends and the smell of good food, I can still feel the loneliness and how much I’ve missed just celebrating it with everybody else. Before I left home for school, I thought Spring Festival would be a well-known festival around the world, but it turns out it is only celebrated in five countries.

As I’m writing this article, Spring Festival is fewer than 11 days away. I don’t think I can ever get over this weird feeling of celebrating traditional festivals here, and even though I am learning to adjust to it, I still wish that one day I can feel just a little bit more at home in Emerson.