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CAI’s Expat Survival Guide for the Holidays


Usually one for embracing change and experiencing new things, knowing that my family at home in the USA was gearing up to celebrate Christmas while I was abroad made me long for the familiarity of home. Watching the days grow shorter and thermostat drop heightened my sense of anticipation for my favorite time of year.

“As an expat, the holidays were one of the most challenging times to be away from home,” states Logan, a senior research and development specialist at CAI who lived in China for 5 years. “Luckily, I was always able to go home for Christmas, but Thanksgiving was always really difficult.”

During a time for togetherness, it might seem difficult to get in the “holiday spirit” when you are surrounded by reminders of missed family, friends, and traditions.  With the holidays around the corner, I spoke to several of our Global Assignment Coordinators for any tips they could pass on to expats during this time of year. Who better to consult than our experienced and dedicated team, most of whom have navigated these challenges themselves? Together, we surmised 6 key points for celebrating the holidays away from home:


  1. Get Together

Caleb, CAI’s research and development specialist and former expat in China, noted that the Christmas holidays were an excellent time to gather with other expats and reminisce over beloved family traditions.

“A highlight during this season was calling long-distance family members and serenading them with Christmas carols.” Finding a way to integrate both the familiar and the new can go a long way to alleviate feelings of homesickness and loneliness.

  1. Give Back

Giving back to your host community is an excellent way to commemorate the season of generosity. “A group of expats got together and bought gifts for a local orphanage” recalls John, a senior Global Assignment Coordinator who spent time in South Korea. Volunteering and spending time with your host community will increase your sense of engagement, making you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings.

  1. Take a Trip

An absence of familiarity can feel isolating. Kelly, a longtime expat and one of CAI’s global assignment coordinators, proposes going on vacation as an answer to holiday woes.

“My family and I were living in China, and to prevent being homesick, we would always take a trip somewhere.” The excitement of exploring a new place can greatly diminish any feeling of sadness.

  1. Join a Group

Chances are, in cities big and small, there are expats going through similar stages of adjustment.  Oksana, a Global Assignment Coordinator and an expatriate herself, suggests that joining an international or newcomer’s group is a great way to meet people who are “in the same boat as you, so they are very friendly and approachable.” Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can make this challenging time seem a little less daunting.

  1. Create New Traditions

“Recognize that some things will be different” notes Chelsea, a senior global assignment coordinator who has spent several holidays in Mexico.  Practicing gratitude for the opportunity to form new traditions will really make the holidays special. If you are unsure where to start, look to local customs to give you ideas. Whether making a habit of eating 12 grapes at midnight like revelers do on New Year’s Eve in Spain, or eating KFC on Christmas like the Japanese, participating in local traditions can go a long a way toward making your new city feel like a home.

  1. Connect with Loved Ones

Finally, making time for loved ones is an essential part of the holiday season, even when separated by thousands of miles. Chelsea adds that video-calling friends and family made the distance seem smaller.

“Just be sure to limit time on social media,” she says, emphasizing how much harder being away felt when she was spending a lot of time scanning the newsfeeds of friends and family.


Whether you are an expat away from your family for the first time or you and your family have just relocated to a new country, take time to enjoy the unique local traditions around you and make time to celebrate the old and familiar ones you hold most dear.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Cultural Awareness International. See you in 2019.


About CAI

Cultural Awareness International, Inc. (CAI) has 29 years of remarkable history working with HR and Business Leaders to create unique, personalized solutions that develop their employee talent to perform skillfully in the global marketplace. A woman and minority, privately owned and operated company, we holistically address organizational needs for global competency development, diversity and inclusion training, intercultural communication and global leadership with flexibility and innovation. Additionally, we provide comprehensive destination services that assist assignees and their families in relocating to a new home and settling into their new community.

Our experience collaborating with global companies across all industries and scope gives us invaluable insight to anticipate and address our clients’ needs. Our solutions target not only the needs of globally mobile individuals and their families but also that of teams and senior leadership. CAI’s expertise, creativity, and agility deliver the best sustainable solutions to hone and enhance the skills of your globally mobile talent.