For most Filipinos, what comes to mind when they think about the Christmas season are the leisurely strolls through parol laden streets, piping hot cups of tsokolate with ensaymada, or the massive feasts enjoyed with friends and family. These traditions have become part of the quintessential Filipino Christmas experience. They are not just something for the holidays, but they are reminders of culture and home, more so for those living abroad.
Unfortunately, for some members of De La Salle University’s student body, some circumstances are getting in the way of being a part of the Christmas tradition, or, at the very least, being part of the usual holiday celebrations. While most students of the La Salle system are enjoying their short semestral vacation over the Christmas break, the exchange students in the Lasallian Exchange Program have different stories to tell over the holidays.
Windows of opportunity
One would think that these exchange students would have a strong urge to return home for the holidays after being apart from their families, but as it turns out, some exchange students are rather excited by the prospect of spending the holidays away from home. Roedel Masilungan, the Global Education Specialist and Unit Head of the International Center, explained that although some want to spend time with their families, they would rather enjoy the company of their friends instead.
“Others are more open to being away from their family and would rather spend their time with new friends they made here,” he explains. “At certain times, they would spend it in one of the apartments they rent. They have their own party there, or they either go out of the country instead of here.”
Kaho Tamura, an International Studies student from Japan, finds herself excited to spend the holidays away from home. She says, “I am excited to be having parties with Japanese friends.” Although away from home, she intends to make the most of her time here.
Kiyoshi Inaba, an Economics student from Japan, is quite used to being away from family. “Basically we don’t stay with each other,” says Kiyoshi quite plainly. In fact, Kiyoshi doesn’t even seem fazed that his family is far away, and is quite eager to embrace his free time.
“Basically I spend this time with my friends. Christmas, for me, is a festival. I’ll probably stay in a friend’s house. I’ll probably also take a trip with friends,” says Kiyoshi. Truly, Christmas can be a special time when one can unwind and relish the idea of zero obligations, at least for a good two weeks.
Some exchange students, like Andrea Proudy, a Business Management student from France, end up having their parents visit the Philippines. “I was supposed to celebrate Filipino-style with my friends, but finally my parents are gonna come, so they’ll be here, making me really happy about it,” she says. “This is my first time spending Christmas abroad. It’s weird because usually I’ll be having a big family dinner, so this year it’ll be only me and my parents, but it’s nice. I’m happy to do something different this time.”
She also points out that since her family’s coming to the Philippines, they have plans of enjoying the tropical setting here. “They’re only gonna stay 10 days [or] so, but we’re gonna go to Palawan. I want them to relax, and also in France, it’s freezing in Christmas, so I think it’ll be really nice if they can enjoy the beach or something,” she states.
The Christmas culture shock
For Kaho, Christmas is all about the celebration. “This Christmas, I’m going to have parties with my Japanese friends,” she states. She adds that, in Japan, Christmas isn’t really that celebrated, saying, “We usually just have a party. It’s just an event.”
Masilungan affirms Kaho’s statement by saying that the difference in religions and cultures factor into this divide. “It’s just a single-day event because, number one, their religion is different. It’s either Buddhism or Shintoism.”
While this may be the case with some of the exchange students, Andrea is quite excited with the way she’s going to celebrate Christmas in the country. “I feel like, because people here are very religious and they care about these things, I really want to go to a Christmas celebration in a church so it gives me, I don’t know, a sense of gratitude about the things that I have.”
Part of the holiday spirit is to be grateful for what one has in life, and it’s ingrained by the adults in the family, not just as a tradition, but also as a life lesson. Coincidentally, a huge part of the holidays is centered on family, and time is spent to bond and relish the holidays with them. In this day and world, staying in touch is a whole lot easier. For students like Andrea and Kaho, being able to share intimate moments with their loved ones in a necessity.
“I call my friends and family almost every day. We usually chat through Line every day. Usually it’s through Twitter or Facebook. We upload pictures a lot. And I sent a postcard [to] my grandfather for Christmas. I don’t really think it’s that difficult because of the technology,” says Kaho, who credits social networking for easily connecting her to her loved ones.
Andrea said that, though there may be differences in the way Christmas is celebrated in France and in the Philippines, family is still an important aspect of the celebration. “I think it’s the same in the fact that we spend Christmas with our family usually and also the food and everything. But I think it’s a bit different because usually I tend to spend my Christmas with my close family and I feel like in the Philippines, it’s more of a huge feast or something,” states Andrea, who eagerly waits for her parents.
Christmas is ultimately a celebration spent with loved ones, whether they’re family or newfound friends. The season is a time for joy and laughter, and the experiences of these exchange students show us that, regardless of the cultural and religious differences.