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How Christmas was saved!

There I was, and presumably most other students, pouring over the last assignments and in the throes of completing final submissions, when an email hit my inbox, “Don’t forget to register: Solidarity Action''.

By Monalee Gibbs

As the fall 2020/2021 semester drew to a close, I began wondering about my “Christmas plans”. Obviously, as students, we had by then, grown accustomed to the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic with classes moved online, however I, and I believe many other international students, still harboured hopes of something exciting over the festive season.

Photo by Monalee Gibbs

Arriving from thousands of miles on the other side of the globe, I banished the idea of returning home; after all, I had only been here for less than 3 months and moreover, the astronomical costs and inconveniences related to travel deterred any desire I wanted to muster. Still, with over a month of holidays on the horizon, I longed for something more. Resigning myself to staying here, my ‘Seniors Gang’ and I made a pact to go sightseeing together around Switzerland and salvage all there was that remained “permitted” under the regime of the “new normal”. 

There I was, and presumably most other students, pouring over the last assignments and in the throes of completing final submissions, when an email hit my inbox, “Don’t forget to register: Solidarity Action”. Eagerly I scanned the missive, becoming more intrigued as I read. At that moment, I knew Christmas was saved!

Photo by Monalee Gibbs

Solidarity Action is an initiative of GISA and the Student Wellbeing and Support Service. What began as a dinner in 2019, evolved into a dynamic exchange where staff and students at the Institute invited members of the IHEID student community to share with them over the festive season.

My Christmas was saved through the moments of a warm home-cooked meal coupled with the giggles and curious smiles of little ones, the awe of a ‘winter wonderland’ high in the Jura mountains, roaming the expansive trails of the Genevois countryside in Certoux and being captivated by the mysterious gush of the Versoix River, as its meandering path ends in the Lac Léman. Where pets were present, cats were the furry friends of choice and they too also welcomed me into their homes. However, the “star” of this show has undoubtedly been the hospitality of the brave hosts, who opened their hearts, doors and homes to us, strangers ‘marooned’ in Switzerland and held at the mercy of the raging pandemic.

Photo by Monalee Gibbs

Sharing my story as a national of Jamaica, a professional in diplomacy and international affairs, and as a scholar of Development Studies, centering my hopes for the future in the field was also equally enriching. I was generously hosted by Amber Darwish, PhD student; Claudia Druliolle Savaiux, Human Resources Director; Isabelle Vuillemin-Raval, Librarian; and Michal Sela, Deputy Head, Student Services.

I am replete with gratitude to my hosts and all the others who gave their time and effort to accord us students a moment of unbridled solidarity. Hats off to the team at GISA and the Student Wellbeing and Support Service who organized and made it possible for us to experience Christmas with such a beautiful respite from the overshadowing uncertainty and solitude of being an international student during this time. Not only did you take us into your homes, but you checked-on us to ensure we got home safely and some went above and beyond, personally picking us up and dropping us home or covering the cost of travel. A big thank you!


Enjoy these photos from the exchanges, including a testimonial from a fellow student who also participated in Solidarity Action.

“For me, It was a great experience to visit Eliane-a staff at the Institute, Professor Burci, and Laura-an MDEV student. Their warm hospitality was just amazing and unforgettable. We shared many stories and enjoyed listening to each other’s opinions. All in all, the solidarity program provided me a great opportunity to know more people that I couldn’t otherwise in this situation”– The Hung Vu, Development Studies, 2022

Photo by The Hung Vu

Monalee Gibbs is a first year Master’s Candidate in Development Studies.

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