Like many international students, Demin Kong from China and Sharifa Ahmed from Bangladesh chose to spend their winter break in Canada.
It can be a difficult time of year for international students who face increased travel costs during the holiday season, but some see it as an opportunity.
“This was my first Christmas in Canada,” said Ahmed. “I wanted to celebrate it the Canadian way.”
To ensure international students feel continued support by the local community, Brock International Services organizes an annual Home for the Holidays program which connects a local host with an international student for a traditional festive event. The goal is to ensure no student has to spend the festive season alone.
At the beginning of December, Teghan Hinksman, Scholar Services & Program Coordinator, Brock International Services, and her roommate, Tori Kuchar, Student Information & Service Advisor with Brock Central, both agreed that the program was the perfect opportunity to learn more about international students and their experiences in Canada.
They found out that they were matched with Kong and Ahmed in early December and began making arrangements for the students to come over to their home later that month.
“I was hoping to make the night the highlight of their experience at Brock thus far,” said Hinksman.
They planned on serving a delicious holiday meal, baking cookies, watching one of their favourite movies and sharing stories throughout the night.
“At first, I was really nervous to meet my hosts,” said Ahmed. “I did not know what to expect. But once I did meet them, I felt ecstatic. We all talked about our cultures and festivals and I learned so much about the history behind these festivals and how different it is in different countries.”
Hinksman also learned a lot about the students’ own traditions and holiday events.
“There is no better way to make a connection than over a delicious meal and good conversation,” said Hinksman.
One of Hinksman’s fondest memories of the evening was popping Christmas crackers. It’s one of her most cherished family traditions, and she relished in the opportunity to share it with both Kong and Ahmed.
The group has remained in contact since their shared experience on Dec. 21, with the students reaching out to wish Hinksman a happy new year.
“I would definitely participate in this program again,” said Hinksman. “I think it is so important for us, as staff, to integrate ourselves with our students. The experience we promise our students is not complete without our involvement.”
Ahmed felt that the Home for Holidays program provided her with the opportunity to learn and make valuable connections while being far away from home.
“I would love to participate again next year and would recommend other students to do the same.”