With Mathsgiving behind us and winter break in striking distance, many international school teachers are considering buying an expensive ticket back “home” to spend the holidays with our families. While there are many luxuries associated with teaching overseas (See: 5 Luxuries Bestowed Upon Thee As An International Teacher), missing out on family events is definitely a downside. Stephanie and I love our German Christmas markets and kitch Vietnamese mall snowmen as much as anybody, but we’ve come to feel that this time of year is always better with family.

In support of those expat teachers who must forgo another Christmas season away from home, here are 5 ways that Stephanie and I have tried to make the best out of a situation that isn’t ideal.

1. Put up a small and ugly plastic tree

In preparation for our first overseas Christmas several years ago, I schlepped this sad, bendy little tree all the way across Europe and even had the sense to backpack it 300+ km on the Camino de Santiago.

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Our “tree”.

While even Charlie Brown might have rejected this tree, this pitiful piece of plastic has seen more of the world than the average graduate out of college. Even if we’ve had to sacrifice precious storage space meant for smuggling pork and cheese into our host country, it’s been … worth it?

2. Watch Christmas movies (and cry)

As we all know, some of the best holiday bonding happens around the Christmas tree. But since our miserable little tree does little to fill the room with holiday cheer, Stephanie and I gather around the most obvious alternative: The television.

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Using an HDMI cable and an external hard drive full of Christmas classics, the expat teacher can make the most of the lead-up to their holiday away from home by simply binge-watching the days away.

3. Fill your Zune full of Christmas music

If you’re like me, you can’t imagine 2017 without your Zune, and you’ve filled it full of all 8 versions of each of the classic Christmas songs.

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My Zune on the right. Empty Hot Cheetos bag from Saudi for size comparison.

Blasting your Christmas playlist on repeat helps to replace the sound of tuk tuks and donkey carts with silver bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

4. Bake Christmas treats and share them with yourself

One of the great benis of celebrating the holidays away from home is that nobody is hanging around the house trying to rob you of your latest batch of Christmas cookies.

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Lighting up ye ol’ gas oven, and knowing that the top burner will go out by the end of this sentence.

Taking advantage of the unique intricacies of our Sudanese gas oven, Stephanie and I have holiday baking down to a science. Typically this involves lighting both the top and bottom burners, carefully monitoring the status of our cookies, and then still settling with cookies that are burned on the bottom and raw at the top.

5. Buy last minute plane tickets and go home.

Leave that crumpled up synthetic mess of a tree, the HDMI and external hard drive full of movies, and your sketch gas oven that leaks fumes back at your host country flat, and get the heck out of there.

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Skype on Christmas (that’s us on the iPad) just doesn’t cut it.

At the end of the day, family can’t be faked by a bunch of poor substitutes. If you have the money, and thankfully we do this year, go home and spend Christmas with the people that mean the most to you. Emirates, Take Our Money! 


Thanks for visiting our website on teaching in the international school circuit. If you’re passionate about education like we are, feel free to join our Facebook group, Over-Posting Educators, and keep coming back!

– Zach Groshell (Twitter: @mrzachg)

5 thoughts on “5 Ways Expat Teachers Try to Cope With Christmas Overseas

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