International Students Celebrate the Holidays

PSU’s international students bring a great diversity of experiences to campus, as illustrated by the many traditional activities that they look forward to during the semester break. Honoring ancestors, shopping festive marketplaces, and Donald Duck videos are among the observances that spell home to Panthers hailing from other countries.

Donald Duck? It turns out that the animated icon is all the rage in Sweden, the home of Anton Friberg ’23 and Linus Lindeberg ’21. Both came to PSU to earn their college degrees and experience American college culture, but when the two Stockholmers return home they know that a vintage piece of Americana will be on the agenda. In a national phenomenon, young and old gather ’round the tube to watch a Disney Christmas special, “From All of Us to All of You.”

Linus Lindeberg ’21

“Families across Sweden watch at 3 p.m.,” says Lindeberg. “It’s an hour and I think almost every family in Sweden watches.”

In addition to the TV ritual, Friberg and Lindberg look forward to big family get-togethers, which are likely to be suspended given this year’s circumstances. But, of course, there’s the food, with Swedish meatballs center stage, along with potatoes, fish, eggs, and other seasonal delicacies.

Festive food is something that unites Plymouth State’s international students, including Zoe Killisch ’22 of Austria, whose holiday time would not be complete without Baumkuchen (“tree cake”). The layered confection sports rings resembling those of trees. Killisch would love to show her fellow student around Vienna if she could. “There’s ice skating, and I’d want to take visitors from PSU to the Christmas Market,” she says. “We’d walk through the streets to see all of the lights and the little shops.”

Native cuisine is also a source of much pride. “Everyone likes Chinese food!” says Zitai “William” Xu ’23. He’s lived in many different parts of China, but now calls Shanghai home. Along with an exploration of local eats, he would also enjoy taking his Plymouth State friends to one of the city’s museums. “They are the best places to see what the country used to be like,” he says.

While most Americans are looking forward to a new year celebration later this month, the end of December is less of an occasion in China. “New Year’s is only a three-day vacation because we have spring festival coming in February,” says Xu. “China’s calendar is lunar based and we celebrate traditional lunar new year during the spring festival.”

Tam “Tallie” Phan ’20

Both Western and more traditional new year holidays are marked in Vietnam, home of Tam “Tallie” Phan ’20. “The Western calendar new year is celebrated and we watch the fireworks, but we also observe lunar new year in our Vietnamese way,” she says. The local and more ancient holiday is filled with traditional foods and activities. “You have to clean the ancestor altar in your home and visit the cemetery to pay your respects and ask for the ancestors’ blessings,” says Phan. “We make special food and place it in the altar as an offering, and we also burn paper that typically resembles things that you have in real life, like a car or money. By burning you send these things as gifts to the dead, to the other world.”

Phan wishes her American friends could visit Vietnam and see her peoples’ strong family spirit. “Holiday time is a great way to see the collectivism that exists in our culture and how we pay tribute to our family members,” she says.

Traditions may differ, but cultures worldwide prioritize honoring the past, expressing gratitude in the present, and looking forward to better days to come. May your holiday season be filled with peace and joy, however you and yours choose to celebrate.