As we head deeper into November, it's that time of the year when the holiday spirit is slowly starting to fill the air and we're all looking forward to some much-deserved downtime.

But while the holidays are a great way to unwind and get together with family and loved ones, that's not always the case for international students or others who live far away from their families. As an international student myself, I didn't go home for two years after joining grad school (thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns) and spent many holidays by myself. Suffice it to say that I've become an old pro at learning how to create joy during the holiday season, and I'm sharing my best tips here:

  1. Maintain special rituals

    Rituals hold meaning. They form a thread connecting you to your family, ancestry, and culture, and are often imbued with some symbolism within the larger context. So try to maintain those special rituals you had growing up, perhaps adapting them as needed. Picture this—growing up, my family would get together in the week leading up to the month of Ramadan to make samosas (fried pastry with filling) or tuna cutlets to last the month. I've continued this practice every year since I began living by myself, and it's become an important part of my Ramadan prep.

  2. Find new ways to connect with family

    If the lockdowns were good for anything, it was this—they made us realize the value of loved ones and forced us to get creative with how we connect with them. The restrictions made us unlock new ways of working and studying that we've continued to keep, simply because they work. It's the same with family—perhaps try to share a meal together (virtually), or send each other gifts that you can open over a video call. Get creative with ways to connect.

  3. Join a community where you are

    As cliché as it sounds, friends really are our chosen family and provide so many opportunities to build something beautiful in our own way. When you're away from home, the only people who know your daily ins and outs are your friends, and vice versa. So celebrate the holidays with them! Even if you don't celebrate the same ones, it can be a lovely way to share your culture. A friend of mine recently hosted a Diwali night where everyone dressed up to eat good food and have fun together. It was lovely.

  4. Reframe your expectations and be kind to yourself

    Truth time—the holidays are not going to be the same way they were at home. It's going to be a little different. In the quest to create new rituals and celebrate with friends, it wouldn't do to lose sight of how the newness of it all can leave you a bit unsettled. A little bit of reframing of our expectations can help here—it's okay to feel a little blue and it doesn't make the holiday any less special. This allows you to make space for authentic emotions, avoid being blindsided or disappointed about things being any less than perfect, and are able to be kind to yourself and practice self-care in the moment.

  5. Give yourself something to look forward to

    Whether it's going all out with your Starbucks drink order the day after, or a post-holiday brunch with friends, pencil in something you can look forward to in the days following the holiday. The simple act of having something to look forward to can act as a mood booster and make us feel optimistic about the future. Also, who doesn't want to prolong the warm fuzzy holiday warmth?

Have any other tips for enjoying the holidays far from home? Let us know by sending your advice to the SPSP Student Committee by email at spsp_gsc@spsp.org or on Twitter by tagging @SPSPGSC!