It sounds like you have always spent the holidays with your family and no doubt in your country of origin. I’m sure that the culture you come from has many traditions and rituals that may be quite different from traditions here in the U.S. Moving to another country is a big deal, even if it is only for a few years to complete your educational goals.
Being involved in the academic community can offer you a few advantages in coping with this cultural adjustment. Perhaps you have already discovered that several of the universities here have International Student Offices which may include opportunities for fellowship and a sense of community with others who are also from other countries. Many U.S. students and faculty are also quite interested in getting to know people from other countries and may involve themselves in these organizations as well.
The majority of international students and even non-student families who leave their home country to live here face similar issues of loneliness and may feel alienated from the new customs and traditions that surround them. There can be a lot of confusion around expectations: what is expected from you in being around your fellow students and what you can reasonably expect from them.
Certainly one of the most positive options is to join in the family celebration of another school mate or friend at the university if this is possible. This may heighten your sense of missing your own family and traditions, but can also provide an atmosphere of warmth, being included and the relief of being around others and therefore less focused on your own sadness.
Another positive option, as mentioned earlier, is to connect with an organization that supports and aids international students with adjusting to life in their new environment. Often these organizations also have the sensitivity and understanding to create alternative group celebrations that are inclusive of people from many different cultures.
Naturally, if you have the option to Skype, call or otherwise have contact with various members of your family back home during the holidays, that contact may well offset some of the loneliness and sense of disconnectedness that comes from being so far away. Take the opportunity to share with your family what you are learning about this culture’s traditions and participate as much as possible in any of your family’s traditions that can be done over a distance.
Hopefully, your family back home will also be reaching out to you during this time. As time goes on, you will form new friendships and gradually become more familiar with this culture. You can pick and choose among the many and various ways people here celebrate the holidays and incorporate them into your own ways of celebrating.
Nothing will take away all of the loneliness of being away from your family for the first time during the holidays, but there are many compassionate people out there and many others: students, faculty and community members, who are in the same situation you are. There are many opportunities for companionship and community if you are open to the new and willing to participate. Don’t be afraid to express your desires for companionship and inclusion. There are many people who are quite willing to expand their own celebrations to include you and your customs as well.