Holidays Abroad

Holidays in Utrecht. For the American student Johanna Bozuwa it can be both ostracizing and exciting. She likes the exchange of rituals with her newfound friends.

“You mean you don’t drink eggnog here?” I asked my roommate after being aghast that I couldn’t grab some off the shelf at the Albert Heijn. A staple of the holiday season, US supermarkets are overflowing with this creamy drink— ready to be watered down by rum to make all our cheeks rosy at holiday parties.

Being an international student around the holiday season can be both ostracizing and exciting. On one hand, you aren’t close to your family and your traditions don't hold the same gravitas. On the other, the holiday season becomes an exchange of rituals and coming together of newfound friends.

A great example was the recent celebration of Thanksgiving at the end of November. Thanksgiving is an American tradition (albeit with a controversial past) where family and friends sit down at the same table, stuff themselves silly with pumpkin pie, turkey, and even “stuffing” (a classic name for an American dish?), and give thanks for the year. A couple of my American friends in the Netherlands were missing their family, as well as some of the well regarded dishes, so we decided that we would bring our tradition to the Pays-Bas.

Pumpkin pie
It turns out turkeys aren’t very common in the Netherlands. In my hometown, you could be eating a turkey sandwich and watch a wild one waddle across your backyard. So that was the first challenge. It took some deep research (thank goodness for our UU education on finding all the right sources), but we found one. Then came the pumpkin pie. We had to trek across the city, looking for just the right spice that no Dutch supermarkets seemed to carry.

In the US, you buy a can of pre-pureed and spiced pumpkin. I was learning the real legwork behind my favorite pie. All obstacles accounted for, we hobbled together a pretty good meal. Sitting at the table with friends from across the world, laughing and giving thanks, it was clear we were also hobbling together an eclectic family of academics while our other families were far away.

Christmas markets
Where I am from we don’t have elaborate Christmas markets like in the Netherlands or Germany. So I headed with some friends to Haarlem to take in the experience. The market wound through the entire city center, filled with dutch delicacies I couldn’t get enough of. There may not have been eggnog but I have to say that GluWein isn’t a bad substitute, especially when paired with powder-sugar covered oliebollen. Wandering by the different stalls, we exchanged stories of holiday rituals and laughed at all of the ugly sweaters for sale— some even with flashing lights sewn in.

Quick trip home
I have to admit that I’m itching to get on the plane home for a week to ski down my favorite slopes in Vermont. The UU doesn’t make it very conducive to going home, though, with classes ending on the 24th. I even have a paper due that day. And then classes start again just after the New Year.

For many of us, going home takes time and so a quick trip may be impossible, which keeps us here alone while others celebrate the season with their loved ones. My Bachelor’s University had an initiative that connected Alumni of the school who were willing to open their homes to those international students that were too far from home to travel. My friends who took advantage of the opportunity loved the break from student life. Plus, it was a great networking opportunity! It may be useful, especially for young bachelors students away from home, to instate a similar program on the UU campus. 

As a final note, the biggest takeaway of the holiday season away from home: the Ugly Christmas Sweater is universal.