photo: Pixabay

December is the most wonderful time of the year they say. For some Caribbean students abroad, this period is rather a sad one. How to deal with homesickness? Two former students share their tips for all young students and their parents.

Former student Claudio Fray knows what it feels like. “I cried,” he says. “I celebrated Christmas all alone the first time in the Netherlands. It was very confrontational.”

“If you’re – unwillingly – nowhere on Christmas Day, what does that really mean? You can be sad and angry, but from now on you can also decide: I am going to build a network of people and friends in the Netherlands that I like! This is a mindset that has brought me a lot.”

Fray (28) is now a ‘growth hacker’ at Sprints & Sneakers. He helps entrepreneurs develop their leadership skills and gives advice on how companies can expand their network.

‘The sadness is a price we pay for loving people’
“The worst thing you can do is suppress your feelings. Go have a good cry,” says Fray. “It’s your transition period; you have to build your life in the Netherlands. But at the same time, look at it as the ultimate opportunity to get to know new people and different cultures. That is really something to look forward to, because it will make you grow as a person.”

“Of course. It’s definitely not a nice feeling that you’re all sad, because your missing your loved ones and the island. That’s the price of love. It’s sometimes good to realize how beautiful that actually is. And therein lies the Christmas spirit: gratitude.”

Solange didn’t celebrate Christmas on her island for 10 years
Solange Wilson (32) has not celebrated Christmas on Saba for ten years. She has left her beloved island to study Communication Sciences; today she is a team leader at an international company. “The most important lesson I learned is that it doesn’t have to matter where you are in the world right now, you can decide for yourself where home is. This is a matter of the right mindset indeed.”

“What I still remember from my time as a student, is that many of our students rely on parents and relatives to pay for expensive tickets. And parents would rather not have their child have a part-time job, like other international students. For many young people, this is bad for their development. In addition, the question arises: is it really that smart to go to the Caribbean in December, while important exams are awaiting you at the beginning of January?”

“Parents think they are helping their child abroad by easing their pain. But should really ask ourselves if this is the way to get a young adult to become independent. And why would you make your parents pay double for airline tickets? With that all that money, you could have real quality time with them in summer.”

“What I’m saying might sound harsh to a lot of young people and parents,” says Wilson. “But this world is very hard. The greatest gift you could give yourself this Christmas is to decide – from the bottom of your heart – that you will become self-reliant. Being more self-confident, being able to control your emotions and to solve problems better.”

‘Ask for that one family recipe!’
For the holidays, Wilson is making all kinds of Caribbean snacks, such as Johnny Cakes. “I put on some good music and we’ll dance and have a good laugh. Wherever you are in the world right now: just bring that lovely Caribbean feeling to your place.”

“And I understand very well that you want to be with family around Christmas. But,” she says laughing, “ten years ago, those times were much more difficult. In these modern times with video calling and good quality internet, you could very easily have real quality times with your loved ones abroad.”

“The golden tip: go ask for that one family recipe you wish you had. Get the ingredients and make that video call, so you can finally make that Johnny cake, pastechi, black cake or whatever – yourself. This is also a way to become more independent. And, you’ll make memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

‘It’s so interesting to ask this question’ 
Not so lonely? ”Well, you could really make a difference for someone else”, says Claudio Fray. “At my work, we asked each other: how do you actually celebrate Christmas? It was so interesting to ask that question, because you learn to not lose sight of people at the most important moments.”

“You don’t have to be alone at Christmas,” he says. “If you’d only realize that people really want to mean something to others, especially during Christmas time. Think of the fellow students and people at work.”

Solange Wilson wholeheartedly agrees. “If you’re wondering if someone might be alone around the holidays, just go and check on them. Read between the lines.”

“If I would say last minute to my people: hey, this person is celebrating Christmas alone! Can they come too? You’ll hear them saying immediately: ‘yes, of course!’. People want to help each other, but you have to dare to raise your hand, too.”