Most people view the holiday season as an opportunity to spend time at home with their families, but unfortunately that’s not the case for many post-secondary students.
For those attending school out of town, and especially out of country, it’s not always practical or affordable to return home over the holidays.
“Every year that I’ve been studying in Canada, I haven’t been home [over the holidays],” says fourth-year ACAD student Shahtaj Shahid, who is originally from the United Arab Emirates.
“Being an international student is expensive.”
While studying in Calgary, Shahid has celebrated the holidays by spending time with friends and feeding the homeless.
Veronika Gruszkova, a travel and tourism student who is from the Czech Republic, is about to spend her second holiday season away from home.
“I prefer to stay in Canada because of school and money,” said Gruszkova.
“I don’t want to spend that much money on travelling back home, and then back to Canada.”
Gruszkova said there are a number of unique Czech Christmas traditions that she will miss this year.
“I’m going to miss the cookies, the traditional Christmas meal, as well as the cutting of the apple, and throwing shoes,” said Gruszkova.
The cutting of the apple is an after-Christmas-dinner tradition in which every person at the table cuts an apple in half, crosswise.
If the core is star-shaped, it means everybody will get together next year in happiness and good health.
But if it is the shape of the core is a four-pointed cross, it means someone will fall ill or die before Christmas comes again next year.
The throwing of the shoe is a tradition in which an unmarried girl throws a shoe over her shoulder towards the door.
If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, the girl will marry within the year.
Gruszkova said this year she plans to spend the holidays in Canmore, and will attend a Christmas dinner with her friends, where she hopes to include some of her Czech traditions.
Jessie Varga, who is currently taking her master’s degree in medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba (U of M) in Winnipeg, said that there are a number of she chose not to return home to her family’s farm near Calgary this Christmas.
“It is very expensive to fly home during the holidays,” said Varga.
“I looked into that cheap new airline, NewLeaf, but they only fly to Edmonton from Winnipeg, and that’s a three-hour drive for my family to come get me.”
Aside from financial reasons, Varga said another reason she will remain in Winnipeg this Christmas is that her university professors went on strike in the fall.
Although the profs are back at work, it has resulted in condensed classes and less time for student projects.
“I won’t have much time to conduct the research project I am doing for my program,” Varga said.
“I am planning to work like crazy in the lab over Christmas to try to get ahead on my research for when I have to go back to my classes.”
Varga said that she plans to either spend Christmas Day in Winnipeg with her boyfriend’s family, or have an “orphan’s Christmas” with a friend who is also alone for the holidays.
But she will still miss her family’s Christmas traditions.
“My family usually orders Chinese food on Christmas Eve, and we all get together just to spend time with one another, and I will definitely miss that,” said Varga.
“I will also miss getting up early on Christmas morning to do the family chores [on the farm], and then opening Christmas gifts afterwards.”
University of Calgary student Justin Dean, originally from Tobermory, Ont., is staying in Calgary to work this holiday season.
“This will probably be my fourth Christmas away from home,” said Dean.
Although being away from home during the holidays is something Dean has grown accustomed to during his seven years of post-secondary studies, he will still miss several family Christmas traditions.
“[I’ll miss] turkey dinner, and opening a present on Christmas Eve,” said Dean.
“The usual Christmas stuff.
“We used to do a family Cranium night, which was always fun,” he said.
It is very expensive to fly home during the holidays.
– Jessie Varga
However, Dean said he is optimistic about spending Christmas in Calgary this year, with plans to celebrate the holiday with his girlfriend’s family.
“I’ve spent 24 or 25 years of my life celebrating Christmas with my family, so now I want to experience every other Christmas tradition,” said Dean.
“You’re always doing the same thing on Christmas with your family, but with Christmas away from home, you never really know what you’re going to end up doing.”