With the holiday season around the corner, International students have a lot to think about as the semester comes to an end and Winter break approaches.
With the holiday season in session, this time of the year can be very difficult for many people. There are plenty of factors that go into the stress of this time a year; finances, responsibilities, and high expectations. One of the more crucial factors; family gatherings.
This time of year is especially difficult for International Students. Mariia Diahiliva an International Student from Ukraine and Lara Guvelioglu an International from Turkey, students at Merrimack College speak on the differences they’ve experienced during the holiday season and how it has affected them personally.
Mariia Diahilieva is an undergraduate student at Merrimack College studying Chemistry and Data Science, she says she struggles to understand why people celebrate holidays that have such a strong history.
“Thanksgiving is the one that I can’t understand because of the bloody history behind it and how people just make it a reason to stuff their stomachs with food,” Diahiliva says. “Another one I don’t really get is Easter and that’s probably because I come from a background where I didn’t have any exposure to religion whatsoever. The whole egg hunt and bunnies really seem like downplaying that got normalized. Stuff we don’t even think about.”
This is a very common sentiment for many international students. Lara Guvelioglu is a graduate student going for her Masters in Public Affairs. Guvelioglu mentions feeling a sense of culture shock considering how massive events such as Hallwoeen, Christmas, and even Valentine’s Day are. These holidays typically involve large gatherings, which are things that Guvelioglu is not used to back in Turkey. Americans tend to emerge themselves in the Holiday spirit which is something both Guvelioglu and Diahiliva are not used to.
The Office of Intercultural Initiatives have been making efforts to create events that are catered specifically toward International students. They take many things into consideration when brainstorming events and push for students to get involved.
“Shout out to the Unity House. They really do try to get International Students to slowly incorporate these holidays into their lives,” Guvelioglu says. “They’re holding a Friendsgviging and a holiday party for International students. I think the community at the house is so amazing and these events are all open to students, faculty, and staff as well to help build those connections.”
Both Guvelioglu and Diahilieva feel like they have a sense of belonging at the Office of Intercultural Initiatives and cannot wait to see where this holiday season takes them. They have been heavily involved in making changes at the office to help International students feel at home when they are away from home.
“It would be great to create more events that help students build a community and find their people. Not all students go home for the holidays so these events can help with building friends in hope that they get invited to their friends holiday celebrations.” Guvelioglu says.
Going home for the holidays has been an ongoing struggle for International students and Diahilieva has experienced these struggles first hand.
“I didn’t want to go through the whole procedure of staying on campus because no one reached out to me asking if I needed housing, so I figured it wasn’t a thing,” Diahilieva says. “In addition, in my first semester I made connections, not real friendships. The Merrimack Community did not play a major role in my Winter break”.
Diahilieva hopes this experience can be different, and Guvelioglu is looking to put in efforts to make this a reality.