For many people, going home for the holidays is taken for granted – students from all over the country head home to their respective homes and Leeds becomes somewhat of a ghost town. But for some students, the journey home is a matter of air miles and planes rather than road-trips and trains. The Gryphon explores Christmas from the perspective of an international student.
Christmas in Tanzania is a bit different from Christmas in the UK, because of one main reason: we do not have winter. I have watched a lot of Christmas movies and so know that, when people think of Christmas, they think of snow, hot chocolate and snuggling up in front of fireplaces. None of that is the case in the hot and humid climate of Dar es Salaam. We only have one season, which is summer: all-year-round. Therefore, besides the Christmas decorations in stores and the Christmas-themed sermons in churches, you would not know it was Christmas, let alone winter.
However, despite our invariable climate, we go all out when celebrating Christmas Day. Traditionally, families come together and stuff their faces with an assortment of meat and beans, when kids stay up watching TV until 2am, and when responsibilities and duties are forgotten for a day. Family is an important part of our culture, therefore during seasonal holidays like Christmas or Easter, we will gather at my grandmother’s house, every single one of us: aunts, uncles, nieces, second-cousins twice-removed, everyone.
I love food and one of the main reasons why I get homesick sometimes is because I keep dreaming of the chapattis and mandazis I could be stuffing my face with, instead of cereal for the third day in a row. Christmas family meals back home are huge, and include a wide variety of food: beans, white rice, pilau, salad, beef, lamb, chicken, chapatti, fried bananas, the list goes on.
According to the University of Leeds website, more than 6,000 international students choose to attend the university every year. Last year, 31,906 enrolled in the university, which means that just above five percent of the student body is comprised of international students. Having that many international students makes the campus quite diverse, and ensures that there are frequent opportunities to learn more about different cultures.
Yet culture shock is not uncommon for international students and it is a feeling that intensifies when you have to spend seasonal holidays away from home. Spending time with my family is my favourite part about Christmas, and I cannot imagine celebrating the holiday in a foreign country. However, many international students tend to not return to their home country during the breaks, probably because they live very far away, and plane fares are definitely not cheap.
The Gryphon spoke to Stephanie, a Taiwanese second-year student, who spent her last Christmas break in Leeds. Surprisingly, she enjoyed her time and said that it “was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the local culture”. In celebration of Christmas, she spent Christmas Eve with friends who had also stayed behind; they ordered takeaway and talked for hours. After talking to her, I realised that in order to enjoy Christmas, you do not necessarily have to be with your family, you just have to be with people you love and care about.
Granted, I have to say that celebrating Christmas in a completely different continent can be an exciting adventure. I had never been to a Christmas market before, the German market in Leeds was the first one I visited, and it was absolutely amazing. I am happy that I am going home for Christmas, but perhaps a couple of years down the line, I will sample what a Christmas in Leeds is really like.
[Images: airportsinternational.com, Chen Hualin]