“A lonely stranger in a strange land I am cast, I miss my family all the more on every festive day.”
Quote from Du Zai Yi Xiang Wei Yi Ke, Mei Feng Jia Jie Bei Si Qi （独在异乡为 异客，每逢佳节倍思亲)”.
This extract from the famous Chinese poem ‘On the mountain holiday thinking of my brothers in Shangdong’ by Wang Wei, gives insight into the thoughts and feelings of many international students who choose to stay in the UK during Christmas. Homesickness and loneliness can easily take control as most domestic students and others who celebrate the festive season head home or travel to see their friends and families. All of a sudden, the bustling streets, shops, and cafes in Durham are met with a quietness that transforms the vibrant student city into a much quieter town.
Luckily for those staying in Durham, the University offers students the chance to get together and have a traditional Christmas Lunch on Christmas Day in the stunning Great Hall of Durham Castle. This was the fifth year that the university had held the event, and naturally this peaked the interest of major news outlets such as BBC Radio, who came to interview three international students representatives taking part in the event, myself, Miss Boonyanutch Sattamai fromThailand and Adrian O’Brien from Trinidad and Tobago. BBC Radio also wanted to hear from the Head Chef from Durham Castle whose team was preparing the lunch and Durham University Chamber Choir came along to sing Christmas Carols which sounded wonderful!
The lunch was served in Durham Castle, which along with Durham Cathedral is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site and has a history stretching back to the 11th century at the time of the Norman Conquest. Today, the city built around the castle is as stunning and picturesque as one could dream of when thinking of a typical historical English city. Every corner could easily be the scenery from a historical or magical blockbuster set in England.
Professor Elizabeth Archibald, Dean of St. Cuthbert’s Society, one of Durham’s colleges, delivered a speech before the start of the lunch. She warmly welcomed the guests, wished them a Merry Christmas, and hoped that the event could be a cherished memory for the students who attended. She talked to the international students one by one, and got to know many new faces while passing on lessons about the spirit of Christmas. In particular she gave special thanks to the staff of the University who sacrificed their Christmas family time to help out.
In order to give Chinese students a better understanding of the fun activities associated with holidays such as Christmas, Professor Archibald introduced us to the fun game of ‘pass the parcel’. By passing the parcel and unwrapping different layers, the smiles appeared on the faces of the guests, adding to the already delightful atmosphere.