Every year hundreds of international students arrive at the University of Sunderland, making the city their new home.
Coming from all different parts of the world, they help create a multi-cultural community here in the North East.
From South East Asia to Africa; South America to the Middle East; Europe to China, they bring with them a rich diversity which makes a huge contribution to life in the region.
For many of these students, this Christmas will be their first away from home, friends and family as they prepare to get a taste of Wearside festivities.
Fortunately, the University of Sunderland embraces the international community during the holiday season, arranging events and celebrations to ensure no one misses out at this special time of year.
We have spoken to students from a range of different countries to find out what Christmas means to them, and how they plan to celebrate while thousands of miles from home.
Salim Salim, 20, travelled the 6,800 miles from his home in Tanzania to study Pharmacy at the University of Sunderland.
Salim said: “If I was at home I would be going out with my family for Christmas, we would be having dinner and just spending time together celebrating.
“This Christmas, I’m planning on going shopping for a few things beforehand. I will then be speaking to my family and friends back home on Christmas Day, just making contact with them and spending a few moments talking with them.
“In Sunderland you can really feel like it is Christmas because there are decorations everywhere and the whole city completely lights up.
“What would my Christmas message be? I think Christmas is all about spending quality time with family and friends and making unforgettable memories. So I really hope everyone has a jolly Christmas with their loved ones.”
For many international students, spending Christmas away from home gives them the opportunity to explore their new city, meet new people and make new friends.
Stephanie Okolie, 21, is currently studying Biomedical Science and will be away from her Nigerian family over the festive period.
Stephanie said: “If I was at home, I’d be exchanging gifts with family and friends, enjoying Christmas dinner and going to church on Christmas Day.
“The best thing about Christmas in Sunderland is spending time with the friends I have made here. I’m looking forward to eating with them, going to church and just having fun.
“I suppose my Christmas message would just to urge people to spend time with those they love and to enjoy this special moment.”
Wellbeing services at the University work with the Students’ Union and the chaplaincy to help make sure the international population get the support they need. There is a full diary of parties, trips, walks and festive activities to make sure no one gets homesick.
Nigerian Casmir Nwachukwu, 19, is living in Sunderland while he studies a Masters in Pharmacy.
Casmir said: “Last Christmas in Sunderland I went ice skating in the city centre which was organised by the Student Union. It was good fun.
“There were different events organised by the University which made sure we had a plenty to do while away from home.”
Mubaraq Ayodeji George, 23, from Nigeria is enjoying life in the city as he studies his MSc in Finance and Management.
Known as George to his friends, he said: “Being here over the holidays gives me a chance to meet different people, from different countries which is a great opportunity.
“This year, I’m planning to go to church then hang out with some friends for food and drinks.”
Many international students also take the Christmas break as the opportunity to explore the rest of the UK and Europe.
Anas Alessa, 25, originally from Jordan, is currently studying MSc Cybersecurity.
Anas said: “Sunderland’s a great city to be in at this time of year, but I also like to take the opportunity to travel so will be heading to Paris for a few days too.
“If I was at home, I’d be surrounded by the family but it’s also nice to see different parts of the world.”
Reverend Chris Howson, University of Sunderland Chaplain, plays a key role in supporting and looking after students who may be spending the festive season away from loved ones.
International students are welcome at the annual vicarage New Year’s Eve party, which always proved a hugely popular event, while there’s a chance to blow the cobwebs away on New Year’s Day with a walk up Tunstall Hill.
He said: “The University wellbeing team and the chaplaincy team hold events throughout the festive period to help students who may be away from friends and family, make new friends and enjoy the holidays.
“Our New Year’s Eve party always has a great turn out and it’s a fantastic opportunity for people to get together and celebrate the New Year.”
Sunderland Minster also hosted its annual Christmas Carol concert on Monday, December 10.
While all international students in the city over the holidays can enjoy Christmas dinner at St Mary’s Catholic Parish Centre on Bridge Street, Sunderland, between 12pm and 2pm on Christmas Day.
To learn more about the international community at the University of Sunderland visit sunderland.ac.uk/study/international/