International students won’t be having a blue Christmas

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Editor’s note: This story appeared in the December 2021 edition of The Daily Universe Magazine.

Journalism student Joslyn Solorzano takes in all the 2020 holiday joy. (Joslyn Solorzano)

Christmas is a time of family, holiday traditions, warmth and love. Perhaps more so for BYU’s national student body, but what about the international students who may not have the luxury to go home for such a family-oriented time of year? What is Christmas time to them?

For journalism student and Ecuador native Joslyn Solorzano, Christmas has been a holiday for family, as well as one for friends. Having experienced the semester break both at home and on campus, Solorzano said being an international student can make Christmas unpredictable. 

“You never know who you’re going to end up spending your Christmas with. You never know where you’re going to go or even what you’re going to eat,” she said.

Solorzano said that in going about her Christmas plans last year, she coordinated with friends only for it all to fall through. “We planned a whole Christmas gathering, but then a lot of them ended up going home last minute. I was able to find another event with some friends I didn’t know very well, but they invited me anyway,” she said. 

Already preparing to host “Friendsmas,” Solorzano is fleshing out the details of what this year will look like. 

“A lot of us are Ecuadorian, so we’re making a traditional Ecuadorian Christmas dinner. We’re making turkey, aroz Navideńo (Christmas rice), and a kind of stuffing called ‘Relleno.’ We’re also planning on dancing and doing Secret Santa,” she said. 

This year, traveling home might be more accessible for some international students as COVID-19 caused a dip in flying costs. 

Flights from Salt Lake International Airport to Ecuador ranged anywhere from $800-$1000 or more pre-pandemic, making it difficult for Solorzano to make it home much during the school year. However, the lack of travel brought on by COVID-19 allowed for a drop in flight prices across the board. One round trip flight she found, Solorzano said, was $350. 

Being away from home for the holiday has had its silver linings. Solorzano said being able to stay in Utah for the break allowed her to experience a white Christmas for the first time.  

“We do get snow in Ecuador, but you have to be near the mountains. We have the Andes out there, but I’m from the coast, so 70s is as cold as it gets,” she said. “I really didn’t see snow until I got here. I always wanted to have a snowy Christmas like in the movies. Provo gives you that vibe.”

Although she may not be saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” this year, Solorzano said she is excited to experience more of Utah’s winter wonderland. “This year I want to go up to Heber and Park City at Christmas time when all the decorations are up and all the lights are on.” 

International law student Ostvald “Ozzy” Buhendwa spent last year in Provo and is planning on following suit this year as well. Originally from Kenya but raised in Toronto, Buhendwa is excited to spend another Christmas holiday with “the boys.”

Growing up in Canada with African roots, Christmas was always a fancy affair. “On Christmas Day, everybody comes dressed up. You see people in suits and they just want to stay dressed up all day,” he said.

Here in Utah though, Buhendwa said he is looking forward to a more dressed down kind of festivity. “My experience last year was insane. I met a group of guys, a lot of them from Kenya. They threw a party and we ate lamb and goat.”

Buhendwa said the party was so reminiscent of his own traditions, it almost took him back to Kenya. This year, he hopes to add a pig to the protein line up, along with beans and South Asian chowpatty. 

Food is an important piece to any holiday function, but for Buhendwa and his friends, the party doesn’t start or finish until the dancing starts. “When you when a bunch of Africans from different regions come together, they start to dance. It’s almost like a show of who has the better dances. The dances are long but insane,” he said. 

When thinking about the kind of Christmas climate he’d prefer, Buhendwa said he would much rather a hot Kenyan Christmas than a white Christmas in Canada or Utah. “Take me to a hot desert in Africa, I’ll spend my Christmas there.”

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