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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The tradition of spending the holidays with family and friends transcends languages and oceans. This Winter Break, UF international students won’t be so different from American students. There are about 6,000 international students studying at UF, according to the admissions website. For them, seeing their loved ones might require longer flights, fuller suitcases and tighter hugs. This could be some of these students’ first times seeing their families and friends in more than a year. Some will be going home for the holidays.

From Mumbai to Manhattan

Darshil Shah is no stranger to celebrating holidays.

"In India, I celebrate everything," the second-year UF graduate student said.

From traditional Indian holidays, like Diwali and Holi, to the more universal celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the 23-year-old information systems and operations management student said he likes it all.

But this year, he won’t return to his hometown of Mumbai, India, to celebrate the season. He said he plans to visit his sister in New York City during Christmas, and for New Year’s, he’s taking a trip to Miami and Key West with friends.

He’ll still be sending gifts, and his love, to his family in India.

"I actually just bought my dad an iPhone, and I bought my mom a Louis Vuitton bag," he said.

He said he’ll give the gifts to a friend visiting India next week to deliver to his parents.

Shah will deliver his sister’s gift himself. He said she recently gave birth to a baby boy, and he’ll bring his new nephew toys to accompany those Santa Claus will bring.

When he returns to Gainesville, however, Shah said he’ll head back to work at the UF Bookstore. The federal regulation that limits international students to 20 hours of work per week doesn’t apply during the break.

He said he plans to work about 30 hours a week then, but for now, he’s just thinking about his sister, the Manhattan skyline and New York’s many Indian restaurants.

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"I always go to the Rockefeller Center," Shah said. "I especially go there to see the Christmas tree. It’s really spectacular."

Proud to be a Florida Gator

Xu Han hasn’t seen her family in a little more than a year.

But over Winter Break, she will make the almost 24-hour trip to China to visit them.

The UF second-year advertising graduate student said she doesn’t know what she’ll do with her family, but she’s excited to spend time with them.

"I think we’ll travel to some places we want to go," Han, 25, said. "Maybe have dinner together and go shopping together."

On New Year’s Eve, she’ll have her own version of a Times-Square countdown in the center of her hometown, Yangzhou.

Han said her holiday isn’t complete without food, though. She’ll prepare traditional Eastern Chinese dishes of braised shredded chicken with ham and fried tofu, soup, dumplings and a meatball dish they call "lion’s head."

She said she’s excited to celebrate Christmas, and she’s bringing gifts to her parents from the U.S.

She said she wants to bring The Gator Nation to them. For her father, she’s bringing a T-shirt that says "Gator Daddy." For her mother, she’s gifting a Gator mug.

"I hope they’re proud to be a Gator family," she said.

Silent night

For Abdullah Alajmi, the holiday season will be a time to study.

The 20-year-old UF English Language Institute student from Kuwait will be staying in Gainesville for the break studying for the International English Language Testing System — or IELTS — which he needs to pass to apply to American universities.

He said he won’t be celebrating Christmas, but he wants to learn more about the American holiday season.

"I’m really interested in learning a new culture and seeing events and holidays and figure out how they celebrate it," he said.

But he said his favorite part of the break is having free time.

"The best thing is a day off," he said. "Sleep all day."

From the States, with love

Robin Kemperman can’t wait to swap stories.

The UF chemistry doctoral student will be flying back to the Netherlands to see his family for the first time in a year this Winter Break.

He said he’s looking forward to telling them about the research he’s been working on and hearing anything he’s missed.

"I’m really excited to see my friends and family again and catch up on all the stories of last year," the 23-year-old said.

He’s also excited for Christmas dinner. He said he and his family usually prepare a large meal, which includes baked ham, marinated potatoes, asparagus and green beans.

Skyping his family isn’t the same as being with them. He said he’ll be able to feel their emotions better when he finally sees them face-to-face.

He’s currently searching for the perfect gifts to bring home. He said he enjoyed his first Black Friday shopping experience and bought himself a TV. But he still has to search for presents for his family at The Oaks Mall.

He said he wants to get his family gifts from America because to give them things they can’t find in Europe.

"Of course I want to get something that’s more typical Floridian or American thing, or a Gator thing," he said.

Christmas comes late

Hannah Gintberg Dees will have an American Christmas for the first time this year.

The 20-year-old UF theatre sophomore from Denmark will spend the holiday season with her American father in Texas.

This is the first year she won’t spend Christmas in her home country.

She said she’ll miss the quirky Danish Christmas traditions.

In Denmark, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 24, rather than Dec. 25. Dees said after a day of eating and spending time at church, she and her Danish family place their Christmas tree in the center of the room and sing and dance around it.

They also play a traditional Danish game in which someone hides an almond in rice pudding, and everyone eats the pudding to try and find it. Whoever finds it first wins a prize, usually a marzipan pig to celebrate Denmark’s main livestock and export.

But in Texas, she’s not sure what to expect. She said she thinks she’ll just wake up on Christmas Day and open presents with her dad.

"I miss Denmark a lot," she said. "Christmas is such a big thing in Denmark, a much bigger thing than it is here. But I think it’ll be fun to try an American Christmas with my American family."

Contact Alexandra Fernandez at and follow her on Twitter @alexmfern

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