I finally managed to do my master's degree here in the United Kingdom, at the University of Portsmouth to be precise. Being honest – what an adventure!

I left my friends, family, my girlfriend, my job and many more behind to follow a dream.

Settling down was as expected, homesickness, getting used to moving around town, picking the pace with classes, luckily I got a lot of help from my Dominican compatriots and the University staff, but what was really hard, at least for me, was spending a Christmas away from my family for the first time.

I don't know how you celebrate Christmas but for most Dominican families this is the only time of the year that the entire family gets together to have a massive feast, we make jokes, tell stories, eat, drink, play, dance all until dawn, even grandparents manage to stay awake until really late watching their kids and grandkids sharing some quality time together. So, get in my shoes for a second and imagine how I felt knowing that for the first time in 26 years I would miss our Christmas celebration.

Luckily and to my surprise, a distant relative (the cousin of a cousin) invited me over to spend Christmas with her and her family and after two hours on a bus, one hour in the London Victoria Coach Station and six more hours on another coach, I...FINALLY...arrived at the small town of Darlington the 23 December and that's how my English Christmas experience started.

The Contrast

Instead of having a big Dominican feast the night of the 24 December and waiting until dawn to open the presents, we woke up early the 25th and let my new nieces open the presents, that we put under the Christmas tree the night before, also the girls left a carrot for Rudolf, a glass of whisky and mince pie for Santa, and yeah Santa and I ate the mince pie and drank the whisky that same night.

For the feast usually in the Dominican Republic, you wear your best clothes. It is kind of a tradition to buy and wear new clothes. I was stunned when I had to wear a funny and silly Christmas jumper and it seems the sillier the better here in the UK. Not only that, they made me wear antlers. You can see the mixed feelings I had by looking at my picture.

The main dish was a hefty amount of mashed potatoes and mashed turnip -if you haven’t tried turnip don’t waste a second go a eat some-, tons of steamed vegetables, roasted turkey and pigs in blankets-just imagine sausages wrapped in bacon- everything with some gravy on the side; nothing to rival a Dominican 7 meat stew.

Personally, the British Christmas experience was something new, fun and refreshing, but there was something else that was literally the cherry on top of the cake: The Pantomime, something that we don’t have in the Dominican Republic, but we must.

The Panto is a very British tradition, a musical parody of fairy tales with a twist, new characters are added to make the story different-and avoid being sued as they joke in the performance-, as far as I know, there's always a man playing a woman, this character is always making adult jokes that kids hopefully won't understand, there's also a character whose only job is to be the buffoon and force every situation into song, not very different from many movies. The Panto is interactive, the actors break the fourth wall, ask the audience questions making it an event full of energy as people scream, laugh and react to what is happening, the actors react to the audience and improvise according to their reaction, simply amazing. Really if you are in the UK, or you are planning to go, and you want to complete your UK experience you must go to the Panto and experience it first-hand.

Written by Martin Tejada, Dominican Republic.