My first holidays far from home

I've never before been away from my family at this time of year. It's going to be difficult, but I have a plan to make it the best it can be.

Tree ornament in the shape of two skates Photo:

In this year of COVID-19 and online courses, people need a break. This year has been very challenging, we’ve tried our best, and the winter break can’t come soon enough. However, for many people—myself included—winter break will look much different this year.

Like many others, I won’t be able to go home for the break. Instead, I’ll be spending the holidays in Nova Scotia, away from my family in the U.K. for the first time. While it makes me sad, I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, and I’ll be doing some things to make this break as enjoyable as possible.


Keep the traditions alive

My family celebrates Christmas, and while I won’t be with them I can try to keep up some of our traditions. I think this makes me feel more connected with home and reminds me of previous years. For example, my mum always buys me a particular advent calendar (which I’ve never particularly liked), so this year I went and got myself the same one because it reminds me of home. My sister, who is staying in Montreal, has bought the same one. I’ll likely open some days with them over the phone.

However you usually spend this time of year—and whatever traditions you may have—think of things that give you a comforting thought of home, and perhaps try them on your own this year.


Schedule times to connect

To stay connected with home this year, I’ll use my time intentionally and schedule times to phone home. This will give me something to look forward to. Hanging out virtually can’t make up for being in person, but there are things that we can all do to feel closer. For example, my mum always cooks mince pies, so this year we’re going to FaceTime and bake together.

Other ideas you could try are (virtually) sharing a meal together, watching a series, or play virtual games such as charades. Something my dad and I do is read or work together, and I enjoy the company. Being intentional with how time is spent with family and friends in a virtual way will feel rewarding and more connected than phoning on a whim, for example.


Open up to your loved ones

With this strange year, communication is crucial. Boundaries and needs will look different and maybe unfamiliar to those around you. Typically over break, I’m surrounded by my family and they can read my body language. It’s easier to have casual conversations about our needs and boundaries in person. This year we won’t be able to have interactions like that, so I must communicate what I need and how I’m doing.

It can be a challenging conversation, but people don’t know what someone else is thinking. It can be hard to read people over phone calls or FaceTime chats, so it’s important to vocalize your thoughts this year.


Keep busy

Scheduling time with loved ones will be essential, but it’s also important to stay busy. If I don’t have much to do over the break, I’ll just have more time to fixate on what has changed this year. Take some time and think about how to spend your time this break. Personally, I’m hoping to organize my room, cook elaborate meals, and apply to graduate school. I also have a paint number that I really enjoy and would like to finish! Your plans don’t have to be fancy or complicated, but it’s good to have a list of things to do if you find yourself bored or homesick.

This winter break, wherever you are, very well might look different than usual. I recognize that this will come with some more challenging days, but I feel comforted that many of us are experiencing the same thing this year. In some ways, I’m actually looking forward to experiencing my first winter break in Nova Scotia.


Dalhousie's Stay Connected Mental Health Peer Support workers are here to support the Dalhousie community, and have our own personal experiences with mental health, allowing us to identify, relate to, and support other students. Find more info about how to connect with us here.