Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Surviving the Holidays Abroad

While some people may be able to go back to their home country during the holidays, many people do not. Traveling distance, weather conditions, finances, job duties and kid's schooling all play a contributing role in determining whether someone will be able to be home for the holidays. 

Being away from your home country is especially hard during holiday times. No matter where someones homebase is, every country has its own traditions and holidays that people miss when on an expat assignment. For those of us coming from the United States, Thanksgiving and Christmas tends to be the harder holidays to be away from "home". People miss their own traditions, their family and friends, the ability to celebrate in a similar and easy way as when they lived back home. As I said in an earlier post, Thanksgiving is just another day in Japan. Christmas is more of a "thought" and a "fun day" rather than a holiday. It makes getting into the holiday spirit hard.

I recently read some tips on ways to help make the holidays a bit easier for those of us who are living on the other side of the world from our family, friends and own traditions.  I also have included a few my family found to help make things a bit easier during the holiday times. 
  • Set a date and time to talk/video conference with family and friends. Technology options today are amazing. Take advantage of things, such as Skype and Yahoo Video Calls, to help shrink the distance between you and your loved ones. Last year we Skyped with our family on Christmas and it was a wonderful thing.
  • Find other families in your area to get together with and celebrate your favorite holiday. If you cannot find someone who shares the same holiday, then do a holiday exchange with another family.  Use this as a time to learn more about other family's traditions. Having Thanksgiving last weekend with some friends made a world of difference in how I was feeling. For one night, I felt like I was with family.
  • If at all possible, try to still celebrate your own traditions. For example, the night before Christmas we always read The Christmas Story, open presents with new pajamas and set out cookies and milk for Santa.  Christmas morning we open presents, followed by an egg casserole breakfast. It was not as easy, but we managed to still follow through with that tradition last year. 
  • Use this time to start new traditions. For example, if you cannot find your normal holiday meal, create a new one that is easy while living in your assignment country. Doesn't everyone want sushi for Christmas dinner?
  • Ask people to help send you special treats and goodies from back home. Sometimes a small taste of home is all you need to make the homesickness a bit less. We cannot get any candy with peanut butter in Japan. You would think we struck the lottery when we receive a bubble mailer with a king size Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.
  • Learn about the local holidays and traditions. How are holiday's celebrated where you are living? What are some of the local traditions? (Note to self: great future blog entry!)
  • Take a family vacation or road trip. A little R&R is sometimes the best medicine. 
  • Talk with other expats. They know and understand how you are feeling. 
Whether you live overseas for 6 months or 6 years, the holidays will be hard. But hopefully some of these tips and suggestions will help make them a bit easier.

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