Sarah Chan
Mercury Staff

Students celebrate first American holiday while drawing parallels between native cultures, American traditions

During the holiday season, international students are experiencing their first American celebration with fellow UTD students.

According to UTD’s university profile, 22 percent of the UTD population is international. A portion of these students will be experiencing the American holidays for the first time in their lives, and often away from their families.

Midia Yousefi, an electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate, is one of these students. Yousefi holds an F1 visa, allowing international students to study in the United States. Coming from the western region of Iran, this winter marks her first time away from her family during the holidays.

“Every single day is a new experience for me,” Yousefi said. “Especially the holiday part, which is somehow scary, because in the holidays, we have always spent our holidays with the family.”

Being away from her family has been especially hard for Yousefi, as an earthquake recently caused damage to their home. However, she said even though she is away from her family, she still feels at home because of her friends at UTD.

“One major part that I can mention is my roommates,” she said. “Actually, because I am spending a lot of time in the house, and in the house you should get that peace, you can function better in your work or in school. If things are going well at home, I will be functionally perfect at school. I’ve got these amazing roommates and they support me. They guide me, they take me to some stores because I do not have a car, and it’s been great.”

Another student whose friends have helped him celebrate the festivities is Rahi Shah, an accounting freshman, who is originally from Ahmedabad, India. He said his friends encouraged him to participate in the holiday seasons and took him out on his first trick-or-treat outing. Shah celebrated Thanksgiving this year at a friend’s house, and said that participating in his first Black Friday experience was a lot of fun.

“Everyone’s excited for something,” Shah said. “Especially Thanksgiving, it’s so cool, everyone is going to meet their family going to their home. Throughout the year, you don’t get time to spend with your family, and then you use Thanksgiving break to be with your family.”

The Thanksgiving holiday was also a new experience for actuarial science freshman, Khanh Nguyen, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,  who had previously celebrated Christmas, and so was more interested in the American holiday of Thanksgiving. UTD International Christian Fellowship hosted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that Nguyen attended. She said she enjoyed both the food and the company.

“I think the way people gather, it’s more like family. If there is a sense of the holiday, I feel like it’s warm,” she said.

Nguyen also attended her first Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house this year, as she was away from her family.

Shah said the American Christmas decorations were similar to the ones used in the Indian winter holiday of Diwali, the festival of lights, although he said he was surprised at how early Americans started preparing for Christmas. Yousefi said she found the Christmas decorations to be a fun, new tradition to participate in. 

“Actually, in the holidays in Iran, we do not pay attention to decorating the house or having a special thing, like a Christmas trees or wreaths on the doors — we do not have that,” she said. “So this is very interesting for me that Americans find it so exciting.”

Yousefi said she wants fellow international students to be active in their participation of their first American holiday season. 

“The most important part is do not be afraid of going out and presenting yourself to other people, because they will be very happy to keep in touch with you,” she said. “That will be a good experience, and I do insist on not just having this friendship with the people of your own country, but other countries. Try to experience everything and be in touch with everyone.”