Winter break has different meanings for international students

A Thanksgiving meal put on by Campus Ministry had over 200 students, many of them international students. This is a holiday favorite for those students. Photo courtosey of Dave Glen.
A Thanksgiving meal put on by Campus Ministry had more than 200 students, many of them international students. This is a holiday favorite for those students. Photo courtesy of Dave Glen.

With Christmas break only two weeks away, most students are looking forward to heading home. But for Marquette’s community of about 500 international and exchange students, the holiday season brings other traditions and celebrations.

Ellen Blauw, the associate director of international students and scholar services at Marquette, said the Office of International Education has holiday programming and services for students, such as a Christmas party Dec. 3, that promote sharing food, cultures and ideas.

Blauw said specifically for the winter break, many students travel within the U.S., go home or visit other friends who may be studying abroad. Others remain in Milwaukee and work or spend time with “friendship families” — alumni or others in Milwaukee that students can be paired with to make connections outside of campus.

Aishah Al Fadhalah, a student from Kuwait in her second semester in the College of Health Sciences, plans on going home to spend time with family. She said her family usually celebrates the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Ahda, for which they visit with family and friends and receive gifts.

“It’s more of a relaxing holiday and not as materialistic,” Al Fadhalah said. “At home we also celebrate New Year’s with a family party.”

Other students take the opportunity to travel abroad during the holidays or host friends from home.

“I’m going to France for break to visit a friend,” said Sophia YunJung Lee, a sophomore in the College of Business Adminstration from Korea. “I went home for my break last year, so this is something different.”

Lee said she will miss her Christmas at home, for which her family gets a tree and goes out to dinner. While at school, she misses the larger celebrations of Hanbok — a September holiday she likened to Thanksgiving — and Chinese New Year in February, for which children wear traditional outfits and receive money from adults.

Alex Huau Armani, a French exchange student in the College of Arts & Sciences, said in an e-mail he decided to stay in the U.S. for the break. His friends from home are visiting Milwaukee, and then he is traveling to Miami to visit American friends.

“I usually spend Christmas Day with my family, sharing a turkey with chestnuts, real foie gras, smoked salmon, champagne and the yule log,” Armani said. “For the New Year, we are free to party with friends.”

Other international students celebrate Christmas with festivities similar to the U.S.

James Deane, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences from Jamaica, said he saves up money to make the trip home, where his family celebrates Christmas with a midnight Mass, meals on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and Christmas cake — a fruitcake soaked in rum.

“Christmas is the biggest holiday back home,” Deane said. “After our Independence Day in August, people start playing Christmas music and preparing for the holiday — you can’t escape it.”

While there are many traditions students celebrate in different ways over the break, Blauw stressed that the diversity of cultures brings something unique to Marquette.

“We are always appreciative of the wealth of experience students bring to campus, and look forward to connecting with students,” Blauw said. “It’s a great learning experience for everyone to share their ideas, perspectives and cultural traditions.”