Crossing Mountains: Surviving the Holidays

Crossing Mountains

Crossing Mountains serves to create a community and discussion between people who have moved from their homes and seek advice on how to cope with everyday and major hurdles they may face.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit down.  The holidays are probably somewhat at fault; Thanksgiving just passed and with December beginning, Christmas, my birthday, and New Year’s will all come and go with more missed family gatherings.  Other reasons may be that I’m on that downwards slope on that culture shock chart  because of little frustrations that have been building up after a while.

This Thanksgiving was the first family get together I’ve ever missed.  I was lucky enough to have gone to college 30 minutes from my hometown, so I was always able to go home and spend time with my family during the holidays and in between.  My dad sent me a video of my family members saying hello to me and which made me happy and sad at the same time.  I wanted to be there with them, eating turkey, and playing with my cousins.  I felt bad, for not being there.  I felt bad for taking our previous family gatherings for granted.  I sometimes thought: I wish we had a bigger family so our gatherings wouldn’t be as quiet or I wish we did this and that… Why didn’t I just completely enjoy our gatherings for that they were?  Don’t get me wrong, I always loved being with my family, but those thoughts were in the back of my mind.  Now that I’m not with them, I want to go back to those quiet family gatherings.  It was tough, not having Thanksgiving, but it did open my eyes to some things I need to change about my thoughts.  I won’t ever take my family gatherings for granted ever again.  Everyone’s families are different.  Each family has something special.  I didn’t cope with a Thanksgiving by myself very well (I sat under my kotatsu and watched dramas), but I’m glad that I learned to be more appreciative of my family.

I’ve also been feeling exhausted lately.  I’m not sure why… maybe I’m getting burned out from work or from just living in another country, but I’m about ready to go on a vacation and rest.  I have three more weeks until winter vacation, so I need to finish these weeks off strong.  I’m excited for my trip to Seoul.  My vacation means food, shopping, kpop, and more food.  I miss Seoul and I can’t wait to go back.  Then after I get back, Mark will arrive in Japan on the first day of the new year!  What a great way to start 2014.  I can’t wait to show him around and be able to go back to how it was before I left (lots of cutesy barf worthy moments, eating new food, cooking together, walking around together, and the list goes on and on), but experiencing it in another country.

But the thought of having to go through three big events without my family by my side, celebrating without me, is something I will have to be strong and push through.  I’m glad that I will be spending Christmas and my birthday with some friends in an awesome city, but it still doesn’t compare to opening presents with your family.  I will also be doing the countdown by myself… Oh well, I will celebrate Mallory-style (lots of dessert and dancing around)!  Actually that would be a great time to Skype with my parents.  Bring in the New Year with them.

Let’s hear from you!  A lot of you have gone through more holidays away from your families than I have, I would love to hear how you deal with these times:  How do you cope when you’re thousands of miles away from your loved ones during the holidays?  How do you find energy and motivation to keep going when you’re culturally fatigued?

Previously on Crossing Mountains: Loneliness // Language Barriers


  1. Allie @ Between Dreams

    Can’t imagine how hard this is, honey. But your shift in perspective and honesty about your situation is so incredibly awesome! And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from blogging… it’s that the community here lets you know that you are SO not alone.

    • Mallory

      I’m sooo happy that I joined the blogging community, because not only do I love writing and photography, I’m so thankful for the supportive community that comes along with it. It makes me happy and more comforted when I read people’s stories about struggling being an expat or feeling homesick or having trouble living in their new country, etc. Like you said, it’s helps reassure you that you’re not alone and there are other people out there who have gone through the same things you have.

  2. Erika

    Mallory — I appreciate this series so much! Thank you for your honesty — it’s hard to deal with the holidays while being away from loved ones.

    For the most part, ever since college, I’ve spent Thanksgiving away from my family. That was hard because it was my favorite holiday and I still get a little nostalgic, even so many years after graduating from high school. Anyway, I think something that helps me is to find a way to celebrate even when I am far away. Thanksgiving in France was fun because I was able to travel to some other English assistants and we all became a community to celebrate together. When I lived in Florida, one of my best friends visited me and we went to dinner at a co-worker’s house. I think there’s a sense of relief whenever you’re invited somewhere, but sometimes I think you have to be the one to make things happen, like in this expat setting.

    Not sure exactly what your plans are for Christmas, but make sure you have plans. And that means plans outside of Skyping your family or whatever — like totally do that, too, but make sure you do something else to celebrate. Have plans already set in motion — make sure you don’t wait until you “feel like it” the day of. I know I traveled around during Christmas when I was abroad and so that really helped and was a lot of fun. (On Christmas day, I had dinner at Japanese restaurant in Belgium, hehe).

    I’m so excited for Mark to come and join you! I guess now is just the time to prepare for that — it’s only a month away, so yay for that! It’ll go faster than you think! And to just… remember everything you’ve been mentioning to better appreciate things? But honestly, you’re handling it well and just like most people would! It’s hard being away from home especially this time of year. Also, I came across this article that might help, considering where you’re at in your culture shock process: (Note: I am not saying you are depressed at all, but just that this “downswing” is typical at this point of being in a different country and so some of these tips might help to combat that a little!)

    Best wishes! I thank you for sharing your journey with all of us!

    • Mallory

      Thank you so much for your comment :)

      You’re completely right. If I don’t get invited to something, I should host my own event! I’ve been thinking about even doing a little dinner with a few coworkers that I befriended, but I always hesitate and find some excuse – they’re busy, I don’t Japanese host customs, my apartment is too boring, this and that, etc. I really want to someday, to strengthen our relationship and have better communication with them. I need to work on that confidence to ask them! (I feel like I’m trying to ask someone out on a date haha)

      I’ll be in Seoul on Christmas day and I haven’t really planned anything for our trip yet, because… well that’s a totally unrelated story, but I wanted to go ice skating (hello couples galore) and eat :) I already know I want to eat Korean BBQ on my birthday and somehow basque in kpop-ness haha. This is going to be an interesting trip to write about.

      I will definitely check out that website! A lot of the times, I tell myself that I’m not the only one going through this. Even in my own family, people have survive the holidays. My uncle and my aunt live in Samoa, and have been for the past 10 or so years. Even though they moved away from most of their family in the US, they still found happiness in their new home (and surviving the holidays!).

      I always love reading your input Erika :) it gives me new insights and things to think about in my life. Thank you so much!

  3. Melanie Fontaine

    I can only imagine how hard this must be for you! I feel very lucky that I get to spend the holidays with my family this year – I wouldn’t know what I would do if I didn’t! Much like you, I have been feeling very exhausted lately. Maybe it’s my exam period, but every day I feel as if I could sleep for 20 hours. Strangely enough, being away from my family during Christmas really wasn’t an issue when I lived in Canada. I’m assuming it was because I had a great host family there and knew I would spend the holidays with great people nonetheless.
    Maybe you can find some other people – maybe other English teachers – that won’t have the opportunity to go home either and you all can spend Christmas together? :)


    • Mallory

      It’s been really weird, because I’ve been getting the same amount of sleep that I usually get, but I’m so tired. I think my body knows it’s almost winter break and wants me to struggle to get there. I’ll be in Korea for Christmas with a friend (or maybe a few more friends now) so I’ll at least be with people :) That will definitely take my mind off of being away from my family. We’ll have to make the most of having the opportunity to travel during the holidays! It might be the first time I see snow on Christmas, so I’m excited about that!

      Good luck with your exams, Melanie!

  4. Alex Fahey

    When I was in school I always went home for the holidays, but once I got married we really didn’t have the money to fly from Hawaii to Georgia for all the holidays. I miss my family a lot this time of year, but luckily we went home last year for Christmas and New Year’s so that trip should hold us for this year. It’s always hard this time of year. How exciting that Mark willing joining you so soon. And your trip to Seoul will be amazing! I love Seoul and it seems a little more magical this time of year.

    • Mallory

      I’m glad you were able to spend time with your family last year! That must have been a great trip :) I’m super excited for Seoul. I’ve never travelled during winter, so it’ll be really nice to see how other parts of the world are during the holidays/wintertime!

  5. Mary-My Life in Scotland

    I have lived abroad for 6 yrs. I haven’t even seen my family for 4.5 yrs. You know what? I’m totally OK. We have our own traditions here and I would miss them now if I couldn’t do “the holiday’s” like we’ve been doing for so many years. I love my family and I do miss them of course but it is much more subdued. The grass is greener where you water it. Think of years to come when you will be able to look on this time you are spending together without your families. You will look back with fondness and know it didn’t last forever and that you are glad you made a great adventure and something to look back on.
    Happy Christmas! I hope you make some plans and start some new traditions of your own!

    • Mallory

      Thanks for your comment! This makes me feel better about not being home for the holidays. You’re right, I should enjoy my time and experiences here and I’ll have some great adventures to look back on. I wouldn’t want to miss any opportunities because I’m sad about not being home. I hope to start some new traditions! That’s such a great idea and something that will get me excited about having Christmas in a different country.

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