The festive season is usually a period set aside for spending time with close friends and family at home. However, many people – especially students and young professionals – are faced with the prospect of spending their favourite part of the year in new surroundings with new people.

Your authors have both found themselves in this slightly daunting situation: Sam living in Israel, Maddy in China. Christmas is not as widely celebrated in either of these countries as in the UK, and we both had classes to attend on the 24th and 25th of December. Despite our initial fears, Christmas turned out to be a memorable part of living abroad, surrounded by close friends that we had made during the time in our new homes. If you’re going to be abroad for Christmas, it’s definitely a good idea to check out the FCO information on your destination. With the holidays soon coming up, here are some tips to get through your first Christmas away from home:

Decorate and explore!
M – I was living with two British students in a flat in Beijing, so Christmas is a big event on all our calendars! As soon as it turned December 1st we set off on an excursion to buy Christmas decorations. We spent that whole afternoon decorating our small Beijing flat while playing Christmas music. The festive spirit was in the air from day one despite the fact that Christmas is not an official holiday in China.

S – I totally agree, getting in the Christmas spirit is really important – my mum actually sent me a load of decorations to put up in my apartment. As a primarily Jewish country, Israel doesn’t really celebrate Christmas, but living in Jerusalem with its Christian Quarter and Bethlehem around the corner, I wasn’t exactly cut off from the holiday. Experiencing the Arab Christian version was really cool; people celebrate differently all over the world, so why not try the local way too?

Food & Beverages
M- We went all around the city to find the right food for our Christmas dinner. Because most Beijing flats do not have an oven, we ordered a cooked turkey. We also went to our nearest Western supermarket to buy specific ingredients otherwise unavailable, such as cheese. Even though we had a very small kitchen to work with, we took turns and assigned different roles to make our Christmas dinner. This effort was really worth it in the end as we had a delicious meal that made us feel more at home.

S – I also got a big group of people together to have a Christmas dinner, which is definitely a good way to spend the actual day and take your mind off missing Mum’s cooking at home. I think I recruited some friends who were a lot better cooks than myself, which may be a good idea too!

Good company
M – Make sure you spend this day surrounded by close friends! I spent my Christmas with 13 friends, all whom I had not known just 3 months earlier. We ate, drank, exchanged gifts, played games and watched movies. These people now feel like family, and we’ll forever share this and other special memories.

S – I also invited a load of new friends round for dinner, many of whom were Jewish and didn’t usually celebrate Christmas, so that was cool to share with them. The combination of the different setting and new company was actually really fun.

Don’t forget your loved ones at home!
M – I scheduled a Skype session with my family on Christmas day, during which we opened the small gifts we had sent each other. I still felt their presence despite the distance.

S – We’re blessed with being able to share Christmas experiences together from across the world, and with Skype I also contacted the family while they were together on the day. I kept it short though because I was pretty busy putting my own Christmas day together for the first time – ultimately, it’s best to do whatever suits you.

Remember, you don’t have to go out of your way to put on big Christmas celebrations. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and when you’re away from home, friends and family, just doing your own thing can be an advantage. When living in a new place with a different culture, you can try out and celebrate different festivals. Around the same period in Israel Hanukkah was celebrated which Sam joined in with friends. Chinese New Year is China’s biggest holiday, which usually takes place just a month after Christmas. So, don’t worry that you’re missing out, usually when abroad you make it up in other ways.

If you are struggling during the holiday season while abroad, be sure to check out the FCO’s advice on how to best cope with mental health issues.



Maddy Gonzalez

Student Contributor

Age: 23
Hometown: Hong Kong
University: Exeter
Course: Economics and Chinese
Prized possession: my diary with all my memories written in it.
Most irritating habit: being late all the time?
What’s next: first job in insurance broking.. adult world


Sam Nightingale

Student Contributor

Age: 23
Hometown: Milton Keynes
University: University of Birmingham
Course: History and Political Science
Prized possession: My expresso machine
Life hack: Positivity always
What’s next: I’m a Teach First participant, hope to work in public policy after