Home alone: an expat’s holiday

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How spending Thanksgiving solo in New York can be just as good as time with others


  • Seasonal decorations at Penn Station. Photo: Teddy Son

  • Fast-food Thanksgiving offering. Photo: Teddy Son

With the entire city lighting up to celebrate the holidays, it is hard not to get into a festive mood.

Thanksgiving means going home, celebrating with friends and family, and eating until you just cannot stuff a single morsel of food down your throat. It means sitting around the big table and laughing and smiling with people, and giving thanks for whatever values may be present in your mind over the past year. Overall, Thanksgiving is a festive time when people get together for friendly interactions with their loved ones

Well, at least for most people it is.

Welcome to being an international student in New York over Thanksgiving. My roommates had gone home for the couple of days of freedom that the school mercifully gives us in between mid-terms and finals. My friends jetted off all over the country to see their families and celebrate. This left me in an empty dormitory with little to do except maybe work on a final paper or study for an exam that is not for another couple of weeks. Whatever I ended up doing, it was little more than a way to pass the time so that the long hours alone would go by at least a bit faster until the people I interact with returned to the city.

That said, this was not necessarily as bad as I had expected it to be. Loneliness sometimes came to say hello, yes. However, I did not let it become the unwelcome guest that had tarnished many of my holidays alone. I found ways to keep myself busy so that I was not whiling away the hours lying in bed wondering what my friends were doing.

Waking up and writing essays became the norm for me during this break, which proved to be a good choice considering I had a lot to cover.

I would write for an hour or two, then kick back and enjoy the rest of the day. On Wednesday I took a stroll to campus to partake in the Thanksgiving lunch the class board was putting together. On Thursday, I mostly stayed indoors to avoid the cold, but went up to Koreatown in the evening to have my own little taste of home. On Friday, I took advantage of the annual Black Friday sales by going up to the Adidas flagship store in mid-town. On Saturday, I watched soccer. On Sunday, I went out for a little walk in Herald Square before settling in and enjoying my last few hours of freedom as my break drew to a close.

My break was not extravagant in any way. However, I was still in contact with my friends, and I was doing things that made me happy. I was taking the break I needed after midterms to reenergize me for the last few weeks of the semester. Relaxing by myself was not the worst thing in the world, especially when sitting in a heated dorm room while shuddering at the ice cold temperatures of Thursday.

The city is a splendid place to be alone. Sometimes it is not, but with the entire city lighting up to celebrate the holidays, it is hard not to get into a festive mood. Try ignoring the gigantic turkey balloon perched atop the awning of Macy’s. Try ignoring the fat turkeys that are served as limited menu items in fast-food restaurants. The city has a way of drawing you into the holidays whether you like it or not. If you happen to be alone like I was, it is a pleasant reminder that I am not left out of the festivities.

This break may not have been a particularly memorable one, but it was one I took to give myself a literal break. I had been working nonstop for the entire semester, and maybe what I needed all along was not a turkey with stuffing, not being distracted by hordes of people, just a little me-time to recharge my batteries. Although I would have liked to see my loved ones on this national holiday, my Thanksgiving break was anything but depressing. That is the main thing I am thankful for this year.

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