Nfld. & Labrador

Many go home, some stay behind: MUN program brings locals and international students together for Christmas

Organizers at MUN have set up a holiday hosting program, where students get paired with volunteer families to spend together a day or two over the holiday break. 

As many as 50 students are expected to register for the program this year

Pragadeesh Ravichandran, Camila Fujiwara, Gaurav Madan and Tanya Rahman say the holidays at Memorial University can feel isolating to international students, many of which can't go home for the three week break and are stranded in St. John's. (Ted Blades/CBC)

School is out for Christmas at Memorial University, and while many will be headed home for the holidays some will remain behind.

It can be a lonely time of year for international students, those whose homes are too far away and too expensive to travel to at this time of year. 

Fortunately, organizers at MUN have set up a holiday hosting program, where students get paired with volunteer families to spend together a day or two over the break. 

"Last year I was hosted by a beautiful family at Outer Cove. So I spent the entire Christmas Day with them, shared beautiful stories, amazing Christmas meal," said MUN student Gaurav Madan who hails from New Delhi, India. 

"And my first real Christmas experience with them, with a Christmas tree and the gifts, I was not expecting a present for myself — but it was there."

The program has been running since 2001. 

In 2018, about 50 students signed up to spend the holidays with strangers and their families. About 25 volunteer families were on board. Organizers are expecting similar numbers for this year. 

The idea behind the program is to help students who may feel isolated, many of whom have only been in Canada for a few months by the time the break begins as the fall semester brings with it many new faces from all over the world.

As students go home for Christmas break, MUN becomes a ghost town. However, some students stay behind without much to do. (CBC)

"It's very important to give them a feeling of home, and that can be done only by hosting students, especially international students from different backgrounds," said Pragadeesh Ravichandran, also from India and a participant of the program in 2018.

"You get a little icebreaking and also you get to share what the Canadian culture means and the kindness of the community that we live among."

For those interested in meeting new people, making new friends and becoming a second family for a student staying in Newfoundland over Christmas, all you have to do is email international@mun.ca to be put in touch with organizers. 

From there, some simple questions will asked regarding when and where the Christmas event will be taking place, along with questions about dietary restrictions, which will help pair students with families based on what is being served — if the meal is vegetarian, for example. 

Registration for volunteers closes on Wednesday.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go