While she would normally celebrate holidays in Bahrain with her family, Kirthi Padmanabhan, like many other Northeastern students, remains on campus in her Columbus Avenue dorm for Thanksgiving, as her friends from around the world do what she can’t.
Anticipating a surge in COVID-19 cases from travel, the university is urging students to remain cautious when traveling for Thanksgiving, and for students who do travel back home for the holiday, the university implored them to consider remaining there through the end of the semester.
Like Padmanabhan, Jenna Fu, a second-year business administration major from Long Island, New York, is also staying on campus with the fear of spreading the virus to her family.
“Knowing that my parents were high risk, I’m not willing to put myself in that situation,” Fu said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping many people away from their families during this holiday season, staying at school for short breaks like Thanksgiving is routine for many international students.
“It’s so far away it doesn’t make sense to go for five days,” said Padmanabhan, a second-year business administration major. “I would usually, for Thanksgiving, go to New Jersey and stay with my aunt and uncle, but then for longer holidays like Christmas and summer, I’d go to Bahrain because that’s home.”
Because the current circumstances are keeping students in Boston for the holiday, students are finding ways to celebrate with their friends and roommates. Like many others, Padmanabhan is having “Friendsgiving,” where she said she cooks Thanksgiving dinner with her friends and celebrates in their dorm room on campus.
Despite their attempts to recreate the holidays on campus without their families, students, deprived of a change of scenery, can find it difficult to re-charge. Lisa Lewis, a professor of psychology at Northeastern, offered some tips for students to stay positive.
“At this point in the semester, everyone is so exhausted, everyone is so drained, so if you can’t see your family, what are some things you can do to fortify yourself and prepare for the end of the semester?” Lewis said. “Getting some exercise, taking a walk, watching their favorite Netflix show, Zooming with family or even something as easy as fixing their nails.”
Northeastern University’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, or CSDS, offers a variety of services that can help students remedy the hardships of not being with their families for the holidays. Alexander Levering Kern, the executive director of CSDS, laid out some services they provide.
“We have a wide range of resources available to people: daily mindfulness meditation, live on YouTube but also available asynchronously. We have daily yoga live and tapes,” Kern said. “When COVID-19 began, I actually produced a document that went viral called ‘Caring for Self and Others In Times of Trouble,’ some spiritual tools and resources, that’s on our website.”
Although this year is unique, celebrating holidays amid a pandemic, it is important to “also recognize the ‘blue Christmas’ phenomenon,” Kern said.
“The holidays are not a special time of year, in fact quite the opposite for many during the darker and colder months of the year,” Kern said. “For some people, home isn’t necessarily a home-giving nurturing place, I’m thinking about students from difficult family backgrounds, students who are divided for political reasons.”
Urging students to think of the big picture, Lewis offered some uplifting words for students struggling with spending the holidays without their families.
“Remember to keep things in perspective. If you’re feeling bummed, you can reframe it: it’s one year, it will make next year feel that much more exciting,” Lewis said. “A global pandemic is a once in a lifetime occurrence and making that sacrifice this year will be wiser and there will always be next year.”