For many international students studying in the United States, returning to their home country for the winter holidays is not an option.
Students cite the cost of flights, and worries about renewing visas as the main reasons for not traveling. And some who live very far say it wouldn’t be worth the trip to go back just for a week or two.
“Right now I’m with my aunt in Georgia — Atlanta — this is my first time with her for the holidays,” said Calvina Hoff, a student at Livingstone College in North Carolina.
Calvina has spent three Christmas seasons in the United States with different family members from Liberia — aunts and uncles with whom she hadn’t celebrated back home.
Other students like Miriam Komuhendo, originally from Uganda but a first-year grad student at American University, have family visiting them from overseas.
“My sister came over to visit so we’re probably going to cook together have something to eat, maybe find the tree to decorate and put presents under it,” Miriam said.
“So we’re just going to see how it goes.”
But many international students don’t have family in the United States and will not have family from overseas coming to visit them.
Especially in a city like Washington, international students have found a large diaspora community that helps them feel at home.
“I’m staying with a family — they’re also from Brazil, but they’ve been living here for a really long time,” said Rebeca Oliveira Esteves, a student at American University originally from Brazil.
“They have a tradition of hosting a Christmas celebration with people who do not have their family here. Everyone can bring something to eat or to drink,” she noted.
“We kind of like built this family together … we all see ourselves as one family,” Nigerian student Augustine Achu explained, describing the community in Massachusetts where he’ll celebrate his holidays.
“They’re from the same tribe as me. We all come from the same state. That’s what I meant by relatives, not like they’re like family members, but here in the U.S. we kind of built this family together,” said Achu.
All of the students say the holidays are a time of nostalgia, when it’s comforting to be around people from the same cultural backgrounds as them. And although these students have found at least a slice of home in the United States, they all say they miss the celebrations back home, and their mothers’ cooking.