Surviving the Holidays in the U.S. for International Students

Posted by on in Study Abroad

The months before Christmas in the United States can be intimidating for someone not familiar with the colors, music, festivity, and shopping that surround this widely-celebrated holiday. While you might celebrate Christmas—or a different holiday—already, recognizing holidays in the U.S. begins as early as November and continues into January. You need to prepare for just how seriously some people take the holiday.

Here are a few tips to ensure you have a fun time without getting too overwhelmed by the stress of the season.

Avoid Shopping Malls and “Black Friday”

Crowded shopping mall

Shopping centers generate far more traffic during the holiday season than any other time of the year. People can also become more agitated and rude as they shop for deals. So, if you aren’t planning to participate in the traditional American Christmas events, avoid these shopping malls—especially on “Black Friday.”

The day following Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday,” a day when stores across the nation offer big discounts on their products. Consumers will wait outside of stores all night in order to be first into the store. This is known as the most intense shopping day of the year, and, unless you want to compete with some crazy shoppers, you’ll want to avoid going shopping on this day.

Ask a Family If You Can Join Their Celebration

Young people at Christmas dinner

Most American families spend Christmas together. They drive back to hometowns, organize dinners, and open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

You should consider asking a family you’re friendly with if they would mind including you in some part of their celebration. Maybe you just attend a dinner—or you stay with them for all of it—but this is a good way to learn more about the holiday. Most families would love to share this time with you, so don’t be intimidated about asking. If you do spend a good amount of time with a friend’s family, consider making their parents a food dish that’s customary to your home country to show your appreciation. The thought is really all that matters, but it could also be a great opportunity to share your culture while learning about theirs.

Organize a Meal and Invite Others

Christmas dinner table

Likewise, this is a good time to consider hosting a dinner or celebration at your house, where you can share your traditions with people who might not know much about your culture. Prepare the food you’re used to, tell the stories you tell, and share your holiday with them. This is a great way to make new connections and to ensure you get the chance to celebrate the holidays as you’re used to.

It’s Normal to Share Gifts, But Don’t Feel Compelled

Friends giving gifts
Christmas is a season for gift-giving, but don’t feel like you need to give a gift to everyone you know, or to everyone who gives you a gift. Make sure you’re thankful if someone chooses to give you something, and, if you want, give them a present. But by no means is this a requirement for the holiday. Instead, take this time to relax, eat as much food as you want, and learn what we mean by “Christmas spirit.”


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