Integration of international students at Christmas

Integration of international students at Christmas

With more and more students studying abroad, higher education institutions are increasingly implementing initiatives to ensure that their international students also get a chance to enjoy the holiday season, even though they are far from home, especially at Christmas time. Here we highlight the steps one university has taken to include international students in the festivities.

Each year, Leiden University arranges a Christmas Holiday Hosting programme in order to spread some Christmas light during the holiday season among its international students. The aim of the programme is dual: to connect international students with a Dutch family and to help international students find a nice and interesting way to spend their Christmas holiday while being in the Netherlands.

A Dutch Christmas

Every year, between 10–25 students join the programme, spending Christmas in a Dutch home, usually two students per family. Students sometimes spend the whole of Christmas day with the host family, or sometimes they arrive around tea time before the actual dinner starts. The host families live across the Netherlands, not just in Leiden, and sometimes the students will stay over night if the family lives far away. The hosts vary from Leiden University students who invite international students to come home with them to their parents; university staff; or even other international expat families.

Experiencing a new culture

Students who have never celebrated Christmas before or who have never visited a church, find it very interesting to attend so they can discover more about Dutch culture at Christmas time. For many students, this may be their only opportunity to be in contact with a Dutch family, since among all the nationalities they meet while studying in the Netherlands, the Dutch seem the hardest to get in touch with.

Finding host families

If you’re interested in setting up a similar sort of programme at your institution, a good way of communicating about the programme and of finding potential host familes is to put posts on your institution’s Facebook page and other social media channels. You can also place articles in your university newsletter, intended both for staff and students. Leiden University publishes stories from previous year’s programmes which helps to convince new host families and international students to join this form of cultural exchange. You could also ask the your student church for cooperation in this event.

It is very rewarding to match the students with the families and to hear how much the students appreciate the programme and all the feedback for Leiden University’s programme has been very positive both from students and families!

By Jantien Delwel, International Student Adviser, Leiden University, the Netherlands