By Leititia Adjaoud
At the Cité International in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, suitcases wheeled on the stairs of the buildings all week. This special place is a conjecture where 12 000 (mostly foreign) students leave, in what they call « houses ». Each country has its own house, and students rent a room there for a small price. This week, the majority of students flew back to their hometowns for the holidays, leaving the hallways and stairs of the campus empty. It would seem obvious that spending the holidays between these white, cold walls would be heart-rending, but students and the administration work together to make spending Christmas on campus as special and hearty as spending it with family.
« I could have returned to Beirut for Christmas, but I didn’t want to, » Elio says. The 21-year old studies literature, he has been living in France for 2 years now and never went back to his home country. Something he seems to be doing well with. This evening, the Lebanese house where he is leaving is completely empty. Most students flew back to Lebanon for the holidays. « As you can see, there is no one here. Everybody has already left for Christmas break. Only 10 of us, I think, are staying here. » The entry hall, into which he lets us in, is decked out in Christmas decorations. A large tree, tinsel…Elio had the means to return to Beirut but chose not to. « My country is destroyed, my family’s businesses are struggling with financial issues. It would have been too hurtful to witness this disaster. I’d rather stay here. » he adds « Last year we spent Christmas Eve here with my friend and we had such a fun night. I’m sure we’ll have a great time this year too. I’m not sad at all. My friends are like my family. » On the opposite side of Elio, some students are having a really hard time being away from their family on Christmas. Paige is from Dallas, USA. She arrived in Paris in September. This 25th of December is going to be her first Christmas alone. She couldn’t return because flight tickets were too expensive. « It’s hard to see everyone leaving the campus. I miss my relatives terribly, and being so far away from them breaks my heart, » the young lady says. « For Christmas Eve i’ll probably go to church on the 24th and we’ll have a small feast together here with the other students stuck in campus. » tells the young lady.
A home far away from home
To lessen the sadness of being alone for Christmas, the administrators of each house organize small celebrations. At the German house tonight, the hallway is bubbling. Christmas tree balls, tinsels, and fake snow are flying everywhere. Students are invited to decorate the Christmas tree. Amaury, who works at the reception, organized it. « It’s important for us to have these federations moments. It’s hard to live so far away from home at such a young age. Some students just turned 18. So we do everything we can to make them feel at home. » Adrian nods as he hears him talk and then adds « It’s a beautiful moment we’re having here. With my parents and sibling in Berlin, we’re used to always decorating the Christmas tree together and I was sad not to do it this year. Thankfully, Amaury had the idea to do this for us at the German house. » On the 24th, Adrian and his friends we’ll be throwing a feast together at the house. At the Canadian house also, a Christmas tree stands proudly in the hallway. Kelly, a law student who has been living in Paris for 4 years, now shows us the decoration they put in a few days ago. « Last week, before people started to leave for holidays, we had a Christmas dinner. It was a bit emotional for a lot of us. Some of us have known each other for a couple years now, and we’ve kind of built a small family, so it was important to have this Christmas dinner. »