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International Students Find Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman or the Hard News Café or both for inclusion in Utah State Today.

International Students Find Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

By Stacey Worster, staff writer, The Utah Statesman,Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spending the holidays away from home can be a positive or negative experience for students whose families live far away. International students often meet new friends and correlate holiday plans so they are not alone during family-centered holidays.

Renske van Dorssen, a senior majoring in government and organizational science, is from the Netherlands. Being away from their home, international students like van Dorssen have different options on how they spend their holidays.

“I am going to Los Angeles for Christmas,” van Dorssen said. “I already knew I wanted to travel every second I could. Los Angeles is one of the major places I have wanted to go so it works out nice.”

Transportation, lodging, food and entertainment costs can add up quickly. Couchsurfing and hostels for lodging can be the solution.

“I am couchsurfing for sure after Christmas, but during Christmas Day I may go to a hostel because I don’t think that many people are willing to host you on Christmas Day,” van Dorssen said.

Going online and finding couch hosts can sound a bit scary.

Wohnee Hong, an international student from South Korea, has attended Utah State for almost five years. This is Hong’s last year here, and he said his holiday plans are still up in the air.

“I might travel across the U.S. because this is my last year,” Hong said. “I don’t like to travel by myself but I might have to travel to California alone to meet up with my friends.”

The holidays are not the same all around the world and neither are the traditions. Giant turkeys, gifts and holiday meals are different from traditions in the Netherlands and South Korea.

“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all, so that itself was different,” van Dorssen said. “Second thing, I had heard about the big turkey but I have never seen it before. It was amazing to see, even though I’m a vegetarian and didn’t eat the turkey.”

Both students said they have had exceptional experiences with American friends and families being accepting of new visitors.

“The family I celebrated Thanksgiving with really wanted to have me there and made me feel very welcome,” van Dorssen said.

Usually families in the Netherlands would be accepting of guests but not near as open, according to van Dorssen.

“To be honest, I think if you are celebrating a holiday in the Netherlands with someone else’s family, they are not that open,” she said. “Depends on the family of course.”

“All of my international friends that were invited by one of their American friends to join their family for the holiday had the same experience as I did, and I am thankful for that,” Hong said.

Hong said Thanksgiving in South Korea is different than Thanksgiving in America.

“We celebrate the season of harvest with singing and not as much food,” he said. “We don’t have turkey on our celebration of Thanksgiving or harvest, you could say. Certain kinds of food represent certain things on our holiday.”

Christmas in the Netherlands is different from Christmas in America, as well as the Christmas traditions of South Korea.

“We don’t do gifts on Christmas because we have a separate time for that on December 5th, and that is called Sinter Klaas,” van Dorssen said. “Americans’ Santa Claus is based around the same this as Sinter Klaas.”

Americans celebration of Christmas is different from Hong’s lifetime traditions in South Korea.

“We don’t actually really celebrate Christmas,” Hong said. “It really depends on the people and their family. We have always prepared some kind of tree for Christmas season. We share gifts as well, but nothing like the amount of gifts as the U.S. Of course, there is Santa Claus in South Korea.”

For van Dorssen and Hong, being away from home for the holidays is not as hard as they thought.

“Well, my family misses me more than I am missing them,” van Dorssen said. “My grandma keeps telling me that it is not as fun without me there for Christmas. To be honest, I don’t miss them too bad yet.”

Being new to American holidays can be interesting, according to Hong.

“I think St. Patrick’s day was funny,” Hong said. “I make sure to wear green and to tell all my international friends about it. Getting pinched is not fun.”

“Christmas time over the past 5 years is for sure my favorite — so many gifts from my friends is a fun time,” Hong said.

“My favorite part of the American holidays so far is the food,” van Dorssen said. “I am excited to experience an American Christmas. I am just so happy we are done with school for awhile.”

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