When Shriram Tallam came to Fredericton from India to study at the University of New Brunswick in 2014, he knew the $2,500 round trip flight home meant he couldn’t see his family over the holidays.
Many international students face the inability to travel home, often due to the hefty costs of flights to their countries. Along with these financial barriers, culture shock can be hard on new international students. Tallam, an electrical engineering graduate student, arrived in December and was thrown straight into the holiday season.
But not being able to return to India didn’t mean he wouldn’t get to feel “at home” for Christmas, with the help of the UNB International Student Advisor’s Office Holiday Host program. The initiative, which started 10 years ago, pairs international students who are unable to return home in December with host families. Often UNB faculty, hosts are typically staff familiar with the ISAO and are vetted by the department.
Natasha Ashfield, the university’s acting director of communication, welcomed Tallam into her home with her husband and young children for a traditional Canadian Christmas dinner.
Ashfield said she felt she should participate because “the holidays are deeply rooted in family and including others.”
Not only did Tallam now have a table to share with others during the holidays, but it was a learning experience for both him and Ashfield’s family. Tallam felt extremely accommodated and welcomed by the Ashfields, who learned how to infuse their own traditions with “the views and cultures of someone from another country,” and educate their children on a culture other than their own.
In their experience with international students, the International Student Advisor’s Office recognized that familial separation during such a family-oriented time can be difficult, especially living in an empty building or walking alone in a deserted campus.
Canadians tend to forget how much there is to know about our holiday traditions. Before Tallam came to Canada, he knew about the Hollywood portrayal of Christmas and other Canadian and American holidays, but nothing beyond that.
Tallam said he noticed how it’s really “a month-long affair” with a ridiculous amount of preparation. He said once you understand that everyone is inside and busy with decorating and cooking-making, it helps explain why campus becomes a ghost town.
Jason MacFarlane, the International Student Immigration Advisor at the ISAO, has been helping students with the program since 2014 and said he has only heard positive feedback. He recommended Tallum participate in the Holiday Host program.
Without any prior experience of a Canadian Christmas dinner, Tallam thought he would take up the opportunity to learn more about the culture.
“It’s one of the programs that’s just an all-around feel-good story,” MacFarlane said. “And it’s a great opportunity for international students who want to connect with the more general Fredericton community.”