What is it like to spend Christmas thousands of miles from home?

Here University of Sunderland international student Georgios Vasilakiss talks about how the pandemic has slightly changed his holiday plans.

First of all, let me introduce myself, I am Georgios Vasilakiss, I’m 19, and this is my 2nd year at the University of Sunderland.

I am doing my undergraduate degree in Web and Mobile Development, and during the Christmas break, I will be staying in Sunderland rather than going back home.

Oh, did I mentioned that I am an international student?

Well, I’m originally from Greece and to be more specific from the bountiful island of Crete (highly recommend you travel there after Covid).

Also, I’m the International Officer for the Students’ Union this academic year.

In a nutshell, that means that I am representing all international students and to make sure that their voices will be heard if they face any problems during their studies here.

So, what’s it like to be like to be away from my home country?

I’ve learned a lot. When you live on your own during your studies, you have to consider your monthly budget, no matter where it comes from – parents, scholarship, student job, summer savings.

You will be the one who must pay the bills every month, who must buy food, clothes, books and everything else you need. Each day you’ll make small decisions about your priorities.

It’s actually great to enjoy the freedom of decision making, but along the way, you’ll learn a lot about cause and effect – and the value of money.

I know that many of our international students will spend the winter holidays here in Sunderland and hey, you don’t have to feel bad and sad about that.

Many of us might have wanted to go back to our home countries, but for the time being, it’s probably safer for us to stay here to protect, not only our parents, but ourselves too.

During the Christmas break, I will be attending the various online activities provided by the Students Union and the University.

I don’t feel alone here. I have friends that I will spend Christmas night with them and the New Year’s Eve too. I feel overwhelmed by the activities that will happen during the break that will make our – strange – holidays a little better.

I will go out and do my shopping, will get some presents to send abroad to my family and will start working in the Students’ Accommodation in Panns Bank.

For some international students, this has been particularly tough given it may be their first time away from home, or they have come from other countries or had personal circumstances which exacerbated any of the challenges presented to them.

It can be a tough time and also a stressful one so I think it’s important to not put yourself under too much pressure.

It’s important to realise that everyone struggles and needs a day off sometimes, particularly if you are away from family.

I believe it’s important to go outside every day either for a run, to shop or even just a walk.

In these uncertain times, there’s one thing we can be certain of – none of us have ever been through something like this before.

And if anytime I feel alone I know I’m able to access the University’s various support services including the Wellbeing Team, the Students Union Team and the Gateway.