Holiday blues brewing for students overseas

Updated: 2014-01-03 08:32

By Peng Yining (China Daily)

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Holiday blues brewing for students overseas

Loneliness is a major problem for young Chinese studying at colleges and schools abroad, as Peng Yining reports.

Four years ago at age 14, Ren Yitao moved to the United States to study. Since then, she hasn't spent Spring Festival in China with her family.

This year, on Jan 30, the eve of the Year of the Horse, the 18-year-old from Beijing will spend the most important traditional Chinese holiday alone at her home in Florida.

She said that every year her homesickness grows more acute as the festival approaches, and the Western Christmas and New Year holiday season makes the feeling even worse.

On Christmas Eve, Ren's neighborhood was quiet, but suffused with holiday spirit. Her neighbor's house was decorated with lights. Santa figures, reindeer and candy canes had been set up in the yard.

"I could see the sparkling lights on the Christmas tree in their house. It looked so warm and cozy. It reminded me of the holidays I spent with my family making dumplings in my grandma's living room. The holiday is a time for family reunions," she said.

An increasing number of Chinese have traveled abroad to study over recent years, many were barely out of their teens when they left. As the year draws to a close, a general air of festivity exacerbates their feeling of loneliness. Homesickness is a huge challenge.

"On festive occasions, one thinks more often of dear ones far away," said Ren, quoting a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poem by Wang Wei.

"Maybe I was too young when I left home. It took me a long time to get used to life in the US. I still feel as though I'm drifting, because I have no home," she said. "Sometimes I miss home so much I cry, especially during the holidays."

Ren's school doesn't have a Spring Festival holiday, of course, and the two-week winter vacation isn't long enough to justify a trip to China. Moreover, at $3,000, a return flight is out of reach of many middle-class families like hers, so she only goes home during the long summer vacation.

"A lot of Chinese students went home during the winter break. We don't celebrate Christmas, but the time they (the returnees) spend in China with their families probably goes some way to make up for missing Spring Festival," she said. "I really envied those who managed to go home."

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