A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
So it’s December 31st, the last day of this year. I have great memories of it, like every year it was in many ways a roller-coaster ride. I am sure I am not the only one to have been on such a ride. Anyway December was a busy month for me what with exams and project presentations. But thankfully there was something social to look forward to post exams – yes Christmas :). Now, I don’t actually celebrate Christmas since I wasn’t raised a Christian but have always enjoyed the festive period leading into the New Year. Also I think it is a great excuse to get together with loved ones, exchange gifts and share stories. I don’t have family in the Netherlands but the International Students office has been running a programme for years where a Dutch family hosts an international student over Christmas. I desultorily signed up for it and then completely forgot I had done this until I was sent a polite reminder. Turned out I was going to spend the 24/25 Dec in Woerden with a fellow Leiden student (let’s call him Bob) and his family.
We were supposed to meet at Leiden Centraal, a part that I did get right but thanks to my lousy nature I was late by 10 minutes and we missed our train. But on the brighter side it gave us an extra half an hour to break the ice. We seemed to get on well and were soon poking fun at each other.
Woerden is only a 30 minute train journey so we were at Bob’s house in no time. His family welcomed us with warmth and some hot drinks and since we were already behind schedule we were all very soon at the dinner table. On the menu was the traditional Dutch pea soup along with a selection of the finest Dutch cheese. Personally I thought the pea soup was the best item on the table. It wasn’t only delicious but it also seems to be student friendly. I have to admit I am yet to try making it but hopefully that will be very soon and I might also share it on here. But the food was only part of the reason of this exercise; I was here to make conversations too and have to admit I was quite nervous at first as this was the first Dutch family I was meeting and so didn’t really have a clue about what’s considered appropriate over the dinner table. But it turned out Bob’s family were quite international. They were extremely well travelled having lived in Asia, Europe and Africa and so we never really had a silent moment during our meal.
After the food we hurried our way to attend service at the nearby Church. The entire programme had been organised by the local youth giving it a lively and on occasions a humorous vibe. I’d like to think some Christmas carols are popular even among non-religious/Christian people and so joining in the party was never difficult for me. But there was a challenge – everybody around was singing in Dutch so I was in trouble. Well not really – they also had the lyrics up on a screen so that people like me didn’t feel left out :P. Bob also took the pain to translate real-time the stories we heard during the service. We finished off with some hot chocolate and biscuits and were soon back in the house where again we shared jokes and anecdotes till 2 a.m.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we headed back to church for Christmas service where again young people seemed to be the theme and focus. The melodious carols sent me deep into self-reflection mode and I think I came out of the service as a calmer and more motivated person. Truly an experience worth repeating.
In the afternoon we had a lovely meal finishing with Christmas crackers and pudding of course. The highlight here was our attempt to achieve a flaming pudding which although is a more common tradition in the UK is fun nevertheless. Here’s how we managed this:
After a few more games and many more drinks it was time to leave. Bob and his family decided to walk us back to the station so this way we got to see a bit of the city. We passed a Catholic Church on our way and got a chance to see off some furry friends:
Well, like all good things in life this trip too had to come to an end. I have however gained new friends and cherishable moments for long. Such initiatives help fill the vacuum for those of us away from home and family and so to end I’d like to thank Bob and his kind family as well as the University’s International student office for bringing us together, and strongly encourage my fellow Leideners to participate in future.
Must watch movie #4
How about we welcome 2014 giggling at Home Alone 1?