Fourteen days to go, it’s Christmas once again! I’m excited to be home this Christmas after celebrating two Christmases away from home.
Although nothing compares to the festivities and merriment of Filipino Christmas, my two Christmases in a foreign land were quite an experience.
I was in Edinburgh, Scotland (UK). I arrived in UK late September, so I thought it would be too early to come home in December. Furthermore, I was looking forward to the Hogmanay celebration, the biggest New Year celebration in Europe.
Classes ended December 15, so I had 10 full days before Christmas. I decided to travel around England. Part of the adventure for me was traveling alone. My itinerary included London, Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace). I also arranged to meet up with two fellow EM scholars, Indi and Ayeb.
Back in Edinburgh, a few days before Christmas, it was lonely. Nothing much to do in Scotland during winter. Unlike in Pinas where we have bazaars till midnight, the town of Edinburgh is sleeping by 6pm.
Christmas Eve was spent with classmates and friends in the residence hall. Everyone brought local food. I brought baked potatoes. My excuse is that I couldn’t find the ingredients, so I cannot prepare Filipino food.
The day of the big event came, everyone was excited though a bit worried that it was very windy the whole afternoon. He (who returned to Edinburgh from Mexico on that day) and I, along with other classmates, trouped to the city center for the big New Year celebration. In the city center, we received the announcement that the event is canceled due to bad weather and were advised on how we can get refund for our ticket. Though disappointed, we proceeded to the residence hall and there we celebrated the coming of the New Year.
Although the much anticipated Hogmanay got cancelled, I was glad I to have survived the loneliest season for most Filipino overseas.
I was in Umeå, Sweden, about 600 km north of Stockholm and about 400 km south of the Arctic Circle. I didn’t come home for Christmas. I was graduating and coming back home in February 2008 anyway, so I decided to make the most of my few remaining months in Europe.
The winter of 2007 was spent mostly writing thesis. From my window, I could see trees changing color during autumn and being covered by snow during winter. Not so far away, I could also see the lake turn into a wide skating rink when it freezes. We would joke that we are in the forest in the middle of nowhere, a place deliberately chosen by course coordinators for us to stay in our rooms to write our thesis.
Taking a break from thesis writing, we could go to the nearby lake for a bonfire, hoping to catch the elusive Aurora Borealis or the northern lights.
As a reward for having completed all the coursework and with only the thesis remaining, we planned a Christmas trip. Loaded in two rented cars, ten of us (representing eight nationalities) went to see Santa Claus in his residence in Santa Clause Village in Rovaniemi in Laplap region of Finland. Just like kids, we had our pictures taken with Santa and sent postcards in Santa’s post office to get the special Santa Clause postmark.
We also visited the Ice Hotel in Kiruna, Sweden. Covering more than 30,000 square feet, the Ice Hotel includes the hotel itself, an Ice Chapel, an ice art exhibition hall, a cinema and the world famous Absolut Ice Bar.
Outdoor activities like snow mobile tour and dog sled ride (to travel over ice and through snow) filled our Christmas day. And the ultimate challenge, which I never thought that I would try, was skiing. I did it and probably won’t do it again.
I am truly grateful for the wonderful Christmases of 2006 and 2007. Looking forward to a great Christmas 2008 here in Pinas.
Vilma P. del Rosario
Master in Strategic Project Management European (MSPME) 2006-2008
Heriot-Watt University (Scotland, UK)
Politecnico di Milano (Italy)
Umea University (Sweden)