Can you remember your first Christmas in the UK? If you were born here, probably not! But for some of our international students, a British Christmas is a whole new experience. Ally Hirji, a BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance student at Birmingham City University shares his memories.

Oh, who doesn’t love Christmas – with the sound of crunchy snow melting beneath your feet, the fresh smell of a Christmas cookie latte between your hands, and the bright mixture of lights illuminating from the German Market!

My first Christmas in the UK was really exciting, something I had never experienced before. Back in Tanzania, it was never a very big deal. There would be no snow, not many lights on the streets and very few Christmas trees. My parents own a restaurant and we would decorate the place up with a few lights and a tree here and there.

I did not grow up as a Christian, so the holidays would just be a chance for me and my family to spend more time together – maybe go away to the beach. My favourite would be when we would go for a safari in the Serengeti National Park and spend a few days watching animals such as lions, cheetahs, elephants and giraffes.

Christmas in England was a whole new experience. I could feel the excitement among my friends when they would talk about the German market, the hot apple wine and the Nutella crêpes sold on the high street. I would hear students chatting away about how much shopping they would do and what Christmas gifts to buy their loved ones. Shops were having very good sales and Boxing Day was a shopaholic’s dream!

When I saw the first sight of snow, it was such a thrill! In December my flat mates and I decorated the kitchen with a bunch of lights, a Christmas tree, and my friend Tom brought in a Santa too! We would all snuggle up on the couch under our blankets and watch Christmas movies on weekends. Christmas Eve came round and I found myself travelling to Edinburgh for a few days. The old architecture of the city – mixed with the dazzling lights and the snowy lanes – made my heart jubilant.

All in all, my first Christmas in the UK felt so different to how we do it back home. I am so glad I got to experience this and now, I look forward to Christmas every single year!

Find out more about life as an international student at Birmingham City University.

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