Next to a decorated Christmas tree is a small brown box tied with white ribbon; on top of the box is a small white model airplane. Photo via Sinenkiy/iStock.
Transatlantic Life

Life Abroad: How To Connect With Home During The Holidays

Moving to live, work or study abroad is a big deal. It opens us up to fresh experiences and knowledge that can enrich but also challenge us; with many opportunities to learn, reinvent and grow. But as is sometimes the case in life, there are occasional tradeoffs with the less positive aspects; one of which is missing home.

Remaining connected to family, friends, culture, traditions and all the other things that celebrate and affirm our individuality is uniquely important when we’ve moved overseas. We can make the most of being among new people and places while discovering ways to incorporate a little bit of what honours who we are. Implementing a few things that deliver comfort can ease feelings of loneliness and unfamiliarity if/when they occur — which can happen even after being away from home for a long time.

A title graphic for a post available on Transatlantic Notes called, ‘Life Abroad: How To Connect With Home During The Holidays’. The background image shows a small white model airplane resting on top of a brown box tied with ribbon; both are in front of a decorated Christmas tree.

The Challenges Of Living Abroad

Navigating things like language barriers, culture shock, differing rules and regulations, homesickness or feeling like an outsider, for example, can present awkward obstacles to overcome. Getting used to life abroad will inevitably remain a work in progress; no matter how adept or experienced we’ve become at living in our adopted country. There will invariably be moments when something crops up that requires a period of adjustment — and to be perfectly honest, this can be uncomfortable. 

Working through these challenges and differences, including missing loved ones or feeling disconnected from cherished observances and traditions can be more keenly felt during the holidays. There are many significant memories and milestones held within shared and sustained practices, particularly if we’re accustomed to friends and/or family being part of them. Living abroad should be disruptive to our norms — that’s kind of the point — but having access to the people and things that remain meaningful to us will ultimately help make the most of our time overseas. If we’re stuck feeling isolated or a little lost, we’re unlikely to enjoy living abroad; this is why welcoming a bit of home into our current life is immensely important during the holidays — additionally, we get to introduce and share it with others.

Whether it’s decorations, food, songs/music, movies, religious practices or unique celebrations; finding a way to incorporate them into what we’re building overseas represents a positive step. It may take flexibility and adaptability to achieve this because not everything will be available or work effectively; but these are skills we’ve likely utilized already if we’ve been adventurous enough to pack up and move miles and miles away! Perhaps the best part of undertaking this is getting to blend the old with the new; creating more cherished experiences to carry with us.

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place. | Miriam Adeney

A woman wearing a Christmas sweater sits on the floor with an open laptop on her lap; she’s using video chat to talk to her family.
photo via Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

How To Stay Connected To Home During The Holidays When You Live Abroad

If applicable and available/appropriate to do so, you can …

  • Incorporate seasonal/traditional food — make a couple of your favourite recipes or dedicate an entire course to dishes from your home country.
  • Eat a meal with family and/or friends over video chat — if visiting people during the holidays to share a meal together was customary, keep this practice going with the help of the internet.
  • Open presents with loved ones over video chat — or send messages with photos of you doing this to keep connected to those you’d typically share this experience with.
  • Include decorations from home — either have some sent over, purchase versions of them online or have a go at making them yourself.
  • Set aside time to connect with family — whether it’s a phone call, video chat or sending/receiving messages; make a point of organizing uninterrupted moments to catch up. 
  • Invent a tradition that you and your family/friends can participate in — this is a great way for everyone to feel involved and have some fun during the holidays.
  • Record any special events, key moments or stories — take digital photos or videos and send them to share milestones with relatives and close friends (and vice versa).
  • Set up a family/friends newsletter — not only does this keep you informed about what has been happening, it provides something to talk about the next time you chat with loved ones (this can be produced throughout the year too). 
  • Write a letter or card — nothing is quite as personal as sending/receiving a handwritten note; it’s something to look forward to and makes a lovely keepsake.
  • Ask for holiday themed care packages — the holidays are an ideal time to receive a box of treats or self-care items from back home; reciprocate by sending something back as a thank you.

Bringing A Little Bit Of Home To America

I immigrated to America just over nine years ago; and in that time I’ve introduced some very British things to my husband (he’s the reason I came to live in the U.S.). At this time of year, we observe Christmas from a family-orientated, non-religious perspective with our shared/mixed traditions based primarily on food (with a few other added extras). We now enjoy British roast potatoes and Yorkshire Pudding for Christmas dinner alongside some classic American dishes. I’ve even been able to introduce traditional British Christmas crackers (a festive table decoration/party favour) and watching my favourite childhood animated classic, The Snowman.

Getting to make holidays special for the both of us is such a highlight — even down to wearing Christmas-themed pyjamas (our contemporary take on a family custom). And then there’s the Christmas morning FaceTime (7am for us, midday for the UK) where we get to chat with my family and enjoy the feeling of being together again; it cannot be understated how much this relieves feeling absent and faraway.

In Summary …

With a little ingenuity and effort, any holiday activity that used to be enjoyed can be adapted and incorporated into present-day life abroad. It doesn’t have to be a lot; even the smallest of touches can become purposeful — it’s a way to bring a little comfort and connection into our lives.

What traditions do you celebrate during the holidays you observe? If you’ve ever lived overseas; how did you stay connected to home?


Further Info:

The Best Countries to Work Abroad in 2023 – Go Overseas

42 thoughts on “Life Abroad: How To Connect With Home During The Holidays”

  1. This is such a helpful post for people who struggle to feel connected around the festive period. There are plenty of people who feel alone at Christmas which is really sad. Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren.

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  2. I’ve never lived abroad but these are amazing tips for anyone who does! Feeling that connection to home is so important at times, even if we aren’t in another counrty!

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  3. I have never been far from home per se. It’s not like my family has a tradition of some sort. Anyway, this a great read. Thanks for sharing

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  4. It’s so great that you incorporate both of your traditions for the holiday season. While we’ve traveled, we’ve never had the opportunity to live in a different country. It would be fun to spend a year in Europe.

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  5. Such a good post! I have never lived anywhere abroad since coming to America when I was 4, but this would be very handy in case I do choose to move abroad

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  6. I am sure living abroad makes the holidays a little harder for sure. But you have shared some great ways to connect and make it more special!

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  7. Great ideas here. As someone living in New Zealand but having grown up in the UK, Christmas is the weirdest and hardest time of year for me now. It’s not the same, but as you say, if you incorporate some of your old traditions and keep in touch with friends and family then it can feel less lonely. Thanks for sharing x

    Miriam | A Hygge Escape

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    1. I completely understand your feelings; it’s certain a uniquely difficult feeling to make sense of sometimes. I think we do what we can, and while nothing will be exactly the same, we can find something that helps us through. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences here!

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  8. I have family who immigrated to America and I have family from America. It always fun getting to mix traditions and getting to spend the holidays with both sides of the family.

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  9. Love this post! Vital to have that connection of family and community, especially over the holidays. The list of suggested activities is great!

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  10. I have only moved across the States for college, but this will be my first holiday season without my immediate family, so I loved reading this! I feel that opening presents over video chat will make the day lovely and also enjoy your thoughts on making familiar food. 🙂

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  11. These are all great ways to stay in touch with loved ones if you’re away from home. I like that technology allows us to not only check in with one another, but we can also have dinner, play games, and even watch movies with each other on video calls. I also love the idea of a family/friends newsletter! Thank you for sharing Molly!

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  12. Food is definitely the binding factor among all my cousins. They may not agree with me to exercise regularly 😜 but they do bring loads of homecooked unhealthy delicious food whenever they visit me. It’s difficult to resist their love for me. 😁

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  13. This is a topic that is close to my heart because I’ve been living abroad and traveling for over a decade now. And it’s great to see how you incorporate your traditions. I try to do the same. For me it is important to establish some routine fairly quick. It’s not about decorations for me, I don’t do them anyway. It’s more about being able to continue the basics of my diet and be able to do my work wherever I am. But it’s great to read how you do it. Thanks for sharing this.

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