Missing American holidays while abroad – how to deal…

By Ashley Harper, Peer Mentor – API Paris

Those who know me best know that Halloween is pretty much the only holiday that I consider a real holiday. There is something so refreshing to me about little kids rushing around in Spiderman outfits, all hyped up on Butterfingers and Skittles, enjoying the one night out of the year that their parents allow them to get sugared and dressed up for a night out on the prowl. As I sit in my apartment in Tuscaloosa this year I remember back to last Halloween while I was still studying abroad in Paris.

Halloween is an American tradition that is not really celebrated in France, from what I discovered. I was sad to realize that there were neither mass displays of pumpkins and ghouls lining the streets nor little goblins going from door to door. (Not to say that there are not Halloween festivities in Paris—check out local bars, they may be having a costume themed night. However, BE CAREFUL about what you decide to wear around in the metro: wearing masks anywhere in a large city can get you hassled by the police. They need to see your face for security reasons.) Anywhere in a big multi-cultural city hub (like Paris) you will be able to find little versions of American holidays, but they just aren’t the same. I will tell you that this was probably when I missed home the most abroad—seeing photos of friends on Facebook dressed up like Avatars and The Hangover characters having a blast—and I was in Paris, far removed from the cultural norm of being zany for one night out of the year.

It is completely normal to feel a little left out when you miss American holidays while abroad, so don’t try to ignore your feelings. Feeling guilty about homesickness is never a good idea—everyone experiences it, especially when triggers like favorite holidays are being completely skipped over in your host country. Something I learned, though, was when I was feeling homesick for holidays, I could adapt to my new surroundings by bringing a little bit of spirit to my Parisian Halloween weekend.

Me enjoying le cimetière de Montmartre, Paris 18e, entirely too much.

On Halloween day 2010 I decided that I needed to visit as many Parisian cemeteries as I could for a “spooky” Paris twist that would make me feel closer to home while still embracing my new environment. I went to Père Lachaise, Montmartre, Montparnasse, amongst a couple others—and just enjoyed the mossy headstones, yellowing leaves, and old cats hanging around the tombstones. After my day full of Halloween bliss, I went to the local Monoprix and bought (maybe too much) candy. That night I read scary poetry on the internet with the lights out. Call me weird, but I realized while I was abroad that I just couldn’t abandon my love for Halloween, no matter where I was.

Le cimetière de Montmartre, Paris 18e—can you say Halloween to the max ?!

After that night I felt immense relief from my forlorn Facebook photo creeping of my friends in action at costume parties. In fact, I was so glad that I decided to celebrate something important to me in a way that I had created on my own. The next day in school I talked to international students in my class about how much fun I had celebrating. They thought I was crazy, but they also were very interested in hearing my Halloween stories from earlier years.

So in short, if you find yourself abroad this Halloween, next Halloween, or any other holiday that you can’t seem to shake (maybe for you it is Thanksgiving!) don’t feel like you can’t bring your tradition with you. In fact, including your host family or new friends abroad could be a unique bonding experience for you both. Intertwining your home culture and your host culture can be a wonderful experience that you will never regret!!

Very cool view from Le cimetière de Montparnasse, Paris 14e

Happy Halloween, if you’re into that sort of thing!!

Ashley is studying English and French at the University of Alabama. She participated in the API Fall Quarter Language and Culture Studies Program at the Cours de Civilisation Françaises.

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