Celebrating community connections through Share the Cheer

Host an international student during the winter break and help build connections and community through friendship and festivities.


For many of us, December is when we pause for festive events that reunite us with family and friends. A time for celebration, connection and community. For international students, family and friends may be far away which can make the winter break lonely and isolating. To help build community connections, U of A International Student and Visiting Services’ Share the Cheer event encourages U of A employees and alumni to host international students in their homes to share their traditions, friendships and, of course, food.

Over the years, hundreds of hosts have welcomed thousands of students a place at their family tables, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from all participants.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the end of the year, and become refreshed for the upcoming year. The international students brought different perspectives, experiences and thoughts to our family gathering.”

Returning after a two-year hiatus, this popular program often receives more student applicants than there are host families to match. And, after two years of virtual visits, we anticipate more students will relish the opportunity to visit and celebrate in person.

Want to get involved as a host?

Here are a few simple ways you can share the cheer if inviting a student into your home this holiday season:

  • Share a holiday meal - No matter the ingredients, a festive meal is a great way to encourage conversation and share cultural traditions.
  • Brave the outdoors - A walk through a neighbourhood trail or festive location with stops to warm up or sip hot chocolate is a lovely way to prepare for or follow up a meal.
  • Cozy up with some indoor activities - Board games for all ages and levels can serve as a great conversation ice-breaker and introduction to the family.
  • Mingle with the family - The opportunity to spend time with the host’s family members — especially young children and pets — is often a highlight of the experience.

Becoming a host volunteer is a great opportunity to learn about other cultures, create a personal connection with students and share in the uniqueness of holiday traditions. We can't wait to hear about your Share the Cheer memories and traditions! Email your Share the Cheer stories to blog@ualberta.ca.

Learn more about Share the Cheer and how you can become a host volunteer.

Gavin Palmer, Student Engagement Programs Coordinator, University of Alberta International

About Gavin

Gavin Palmer is an interculturalist working for U of A International Student and Visitor Services. He lived over a decade abroad which offers him insights into the lived experiences of the students he serves. He has a masters in international and intercultural communication, which, along with his experience, he puts to use through different programming, training and facilitation work, including Share the Cheer, orientation programming and UAI's volunteer management. He is a self-described student of perspective and is always interested in conversations where he gets a chance to challenge and expand his worldview.