Christmas is almost here: the time that most people will celebrate with their families. However, it is not possible for everyone to be home for Christmas. Some people are abroad due to their studies and cannot make it back home to celebrate the holidays. What are their plans, instead, for their Christmas away from home?
text Evelien Castrop, Lotje Hogerzeil, Liza van Kapel and Madhura Rao illustrations Henk van Ruitenbeek
‘I’ll miss meeting up with my extended family’
Cyiza Alli, MSc student of Food safety from Rwanda
‘I plan on visiting some Rwandan friends during the holidays. A friend of mine lives in Rotterdam with her family so I might visit them. Or perhaps another friend who lives in Belgium! On Christmas Eve I will go to church, as is the tradition back at home. I will miss meeting up with my extended family and having a good time over food and drinks.
I am already in the festive mood because all my Dutch friends were celebrating Sinterklaas. I was even invited to dinner by a couple of them to enjoy the celebration in the true Dutch way! However, I feel like the celebrations here aren’t as big as they are back at home in Rwanda. Here people seem to be quite busy with their private lives and nuclear families. In Rwanda, it is customary for several families to come together and celebrate in large groups.
I am hopeful that visiting my friends and their families will make me miss the celebrations back home a little less. Celebrating Christmas this year is going to be a guilty pleasure because the completion of my thesis is going to be at the back of my mind.’
‘We will do some shopping in Amsterdam’
Stephanie Barbachan, MSc student of Food Quality Management from Peru
‘This isn’t my first Christmas away from home since I have studied abroad before. This time around, I am very happy because my boyfriend is coming to Wageningen for the holidays and I will see him again after four long months! On Christmas Eve, we plan on staying here and having fun preparing a nice Christmas dinner the way it is done in our country. We will also visit the Christmas markets in Amsterdam and do some shopping.
In Peru, families usually gather on Christmas Eve to start the elaborate food preparation. There’s roast turkey and pork, accompanied by other delicious dishes. Also, there are several desserts like the traditional mazamorra morada made from peaches, strawberries, grapes and purple corn. I will definitely miss this amazing Christmas food.
Back at home on Christmas Eve, my whole family meets up at my grandparents’ home. It is nice because I do not see most of them often and we have so much to talk about! So during the holidays we spend time chatting, cooking, enjoying delicious food, decorating the house and watching Christmas movies together. Of course the house gets very noisy and crowded, but it is a lot of fun. That is what I will miss most.’
‘Our dinner will be a fusion of cuisines’
Fatima Dominguez Gigante, MSc student of Forest & Nature Conservation from Spain
‘Already in September I was looking for flights. I have my last exam on the 22nd and I wanted to go home to Madrid on the 23rd. But ticket prices turned out to be sky high already. I told my best friend about it, and she wouldn't even let me finish my sentence: ‘COME HERE FOR CHRISTMAS!’ she answered. She will celebrate Christmas with her sister in Gothenburg, Sweden, and this was my chance. My friend’s sister, whom we are staying with, has a house right on the edge of the city. So I will spend my winter break in a magical Swedish forest, playing in the snow. My friend is half Swedish, half Iranian, so our Christmas dinner will be a fusion of these cuisines. Yum!
Of course my family was a little sad to hear I will not be there. Christmas is always a big thing for us, and I have never been away from home for this long, so it's a double disappointment. Luckily, my mum sent me a lot of treats from home to survive without the Spanish Christmas. Those will most likely be finished before I go to Sweden. But I'll bring stroopwafels instead.’
‘I’ll be binge watching Star Wars’
Toshihiro Takada, MSc student of Environmental Sciences from Japan
‘During the holidays I’m looking forward to binge watching Star Wars because I’m a big fan! I plan on visiting some European countries. In particular, I’m keen on visiting Düsseldorf in Germany to see the Japanese garden. I am quite curious about how the Dutch celebrate Christmas but I realised that all the Dutch students are going to go home for the holidays. Since all my Dutch friends will be away, I will probably celebrate with other international students who decide to stay here. I also intend to study about water management and learn the Dutch language. I’m even keen on learning some Spanish if I find the time.
In Japan, many people visit shrines on New Year’s Day. I will definitely miss this tradition. In fact I’m even hoping to find one around here so I can meditate by myself. Besides the traditions, I obviously miss the festive food eaten around this time. During the winter holidays, we eat Japanese thick noodles called udon and rice cakes called mochi. It’s a pity that I won’t be able to enjoy them this time. Oh, and I will also miss onsen – the Japanese hot springs!’
‘I might also visit Auschwitz’
Axel Emdi, MSc student of Plant Biotechnology from Indonesia
‘I plan on going to Switzerland and some of the eastern European countries during the holidays with my friends. I haven’t been to Switzerland before but I’ve heard that the country has some very beautiful scenery. I’ve been to Budapest and Prague before but the fact that travelling there is so affordable made me want to visit that region once again. I’m looking forward to enjoying some tasty and, most importantly, cheap local foods there. I would also like to visit Hallstatt and Salzburg for Christmas because I have seen lots of Instagram posts that make those places look very cool. I might visit Auschwitz as well for my New Year holiday. I hope all my travelling is going to be really fun and exciting.
I’m quite envious of all those who will get to spend Christmas with their loved ones. I will miss the delicious dinner and doing nothing on Christmas Eve except playing some online games back at home. That said, I prefer to celebrate Christmas here rather than in Indonesia. Here I can feel the festive vibe with all the beautifully decorated streets, sparkling lights and amazing Christmas markets. In Indonesia, this is not the case because the celebrations are not as big as they are over here. So, I think I’m really going to enjoy this holiday season!’
‘It is over 25 degrees here on Bonaire’
Marten van Pelt, MSc student of Earth and Environment, from the Netherlands
‘Bonaire is a totally different environment to Wageningen. It’s nice and hot here, of course, over 25 degrees. So that in itself will make my first Christmas here different to what I’m used to in the Netherlands. I’m living in a little hut in the middle of nowhere, at a parrot sanctuary. I am studying how we can optimize the growth of threatened tree species. I’ve been seeing Christmas decorations in the village for two weeks, and there is even a Christmas tree in the KFC.
A lot of volunteers will be away at Christmas; there will only be three here. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be on Bonaire for Christmas or only for New Year. I have a friend on Curacao and I might visit him in the holidays. If I am here for Christmas I think I’ll make a jolly time of it with my colleagues. People here live from day to day so most of them haven’t planned much. And people are so hospitable that it wouldn’t surprise me if my boss invites us to his home. Normally I spend Christmas with my family and it mainly revolves around a lot of good food. But everything is different this year, with the sun and the beach.’
‘We might go on the fjord’
Timo Kelder, MSc student of Earth & Environment, from the Netherlands (originally from Curacao)
‘I’ll be in Oslo for Christmas this year, and we’ve already had the first snow! I even stood on my snowboard for the first time yesterday. It is quite funny just to be able to go down a ski slope after work, because in the Netherlands you are used to having to drive a long way to do that.
In the Christmas holidays my mother, brother and girlfriend are coming to see me and we’ve rented a house through Airbnb, south of Oslo with a view over the fjord. I think we’ll go for nice walks, do some snowboarding, and visit the Christmas market in Oslo. And maybe we can skate on the fjord.
There was no snow at Christmas last year so my colleagues have already told me I’m lucky this year. There will be a Christmas dinner at the organization where I’m doing my internship, too. Normally everybody here dresses very casually but I get the impression the Norwegians really go to town on dressing up at Christmas. Beyond that, I have no idea what they eat at a Norwegian Christmas dinner. Perhaps that typical Norwegian brown cheese which, to everyone’s amazement, I actually like.’
‘I can’t wait visit my French host family’
Juan Ignacio Artavia, MSc student of Sustainable Animal Nutrition and Feeding from Costa Rica
‘I knew all along that I would not be celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica this year. Too much effort and money to go back for only two weeks. But I am not sad about it – quite the opposite. Instead I will be spending my holidays around Europe: from Toulouse to Barcelona, from Switzerland to Budapest.
Christmas I will spend with some very special people and there is quite a cool story behind it. Right before I left Costa Rica for my Master’s programme, which is taught partly in Toulouse and partly in Wageningen, my dad booked a family whale tour for Mother’s Day. On that boat, we met a very nice couple who turned out to be French and –guess what – from Toulouse! We had a lot of fun together that day, and then they invited me to visit them when I came to Toulouse. When I arrived, they were the first people I visited, and many amazing dinners and lunches followed.
This French family became like a second home to me. The mother was determined to let me try all the dishes of the Southern French cuisine – and I loved them. She is an amazing cook, and I am a great appreciator of food, so it was a match made in heaven. They invited me for Christmas to join them for yet another feast. I cannot wait to be there again.’