A Continent Away at Christmas: International students staying in Exeter for the holidays
Online Editor, Maddie Baker, interviews two international students staying in Exeter over the Christmas break. They both explain how they usually spend the festive period and give advice to other international students away from home at Christmas.
Every year, a number of international students spend the Christmas break in Exeter, but this Christmas will be different than planned for most.
Second-year international student, Sohei Kawamitsu, said that he had intended to head home to Nagoya, Japan for Christmas and New Year. This year, though, COVID-19 has ruled that option out. Unlike students from Western countries, Sohei explained that he will find New Year especially difficult because in Japan, families usually spend New Year’s Day together, rather than Christmas.
Unlike students from Western countries, Sohei explained that he will find New Year especially difficult because in Japan, families usually spend New Year’s Day together, rather than Christmas.
For Vishav Kumar, a Third-year Medical student, this is his first Christmas away from his family, so it is a very unfamiliar feeling. With his sister still in secondary school and his mum a teacher, each December is usually a time when he gets to spend time closely with his family. In his hometown Sydney, Australia, Christmas again is different to what we would expect in the UK. Coinciding with the height of summer, Vishav and his family would usually spend Christmas watching the cricket, going out for a buffet and heading to the beach. He added, though, that he is at least excited for his first winter Christmas – even if it is not how he imagined. New Year, too, will not be the night that any student would have in mind – no parties, no going out, no socialising. For Vishav, the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations between the 23 to the 27 December is still not the safest option, but it is a relief to be able to see other people and not be stuck alone indoors.
…the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations between the 23 to the 27 December is still not the safest option, but it is a relief to be able to see other people and not be stuck alone indoors.
On Christmas day itself, the University is hosting a £10 per-person socially distanced Christmas Day Lunch, which will be an opportunity for students remaining in Exeter to get together and enjoy a semblance of Christmas in the UK. Both students felt that the University is doing their best and were glad that it is possible to run events like this to support students during a time when many are feeling isolated.
Remote learning has resulted in many students having reduced or no in-person contact time. The lack of socialisation after class has meant loneliness and mental health is posing a greater challenge for many students. For Sohei, he is just glad that sports societies have been able to run to some capacity, which has been one way to get to know other students – although again there will be a pause over the Christmas period. Being a Medical Student, Vishav has had a different experience of studying during COVID-19. He has had some remote teaching, but his time in the hospital wards requires full Personal Protective Equipment all day. He laughed, ‘I do not even know what a lot of people look like under the mask!’ Friends that he had made were also returning home to other parts of the UK for the Christmas break and so it has been difficult. To keep up their mental health, the pair stressed how important it is to stay connected at this time. They have video calls everyday and spend time with their flatmates doing the everyday things – cooking, eating, food shopping…
‘I feel like as soon as you disconnect – that one day when I don’t talk to my friends – that’s the day I feel my lowest.’ So, with most British students leaving Exeter, it is more important than ever to keep in contact with friends in your home country.
Their advice for other international students in the same situation is that there is always someone you can talk to. Be it video calling a friend, sending a voice note, or playing a game online, there is one way or another to reach out to your family and friends. Vishav added, ‘I feel like as soon as you disconnect – that one day when I don’t talk to my friends – that’s the day I feel my lowest.’ So, with most British students leaving Exeter, it is more important than ever to keep in contact with friends in your home country.
COVID-19 has made many people more aware of their mental health and it has highlighted how important it is to have strategies to deal with feelings of loneliness and isolation. That could be just calling a friend or heading out for a walk. On a final note, Vishav added ‘I believe that when we come out of this period, we will come out stronger people.’