Joy to the Dorm: College Gift Exchange Goes Global

When Mariam Shahab and Erika Lam were freshmen at Boston University, the two Communications majors formed a unique and lasting bond with their college dorm neighbors: Caty, Constance, Sarah, Julia, Alice, Caitlin, Emilie, Steph, Shannon, Lori, Michelle, and Becky. Clearly in need of a more concise nickname, the group called themselves “14C” for short.

“We all lived on the same floor of a huge freshmen dormitory,” explains Mariam, who is now a Communications professional living in Dallas. “Our name, 14C, originated from the fact that we lived on the 14th floor of Tower C in the building. Coincidentally, there were also 14 girls in our tight knit ‘family.’”

That December, the group of friends, all freshmen Communications majors at BU, chose to begin a holiday tradition to help ease their end-of-semester stresses. As Erika recalls, “We decided to start a Secret Santa gift exchange — to get our mind on the holidays and off of exams! We did it the old-fashioned way our first year, literally drawing names out of a hat.”

The approach was adequate for the time being, but as the group discovered, the standard Secret Santa name draw had some real drawbacks once the group was dispersed and moved out of the dorm. This inspired the tech-savvy Mariam to give Elfster’s online Secret Santa organizer a shot.

“After freshmen year,” Mariam says, “our living situations started shifting and we moved all over campus. That being said, it was, of course, easier to draw names through Elfster.” She adds, “Using Elfster let me control exchange aspects like not having roommates draw each other. And it remembers year over year draws and prevents people from getting the same person each time.”

The ladies of 14C have since finished school and moved away from Boston, but thanks to Elfster, they are still keeping their college tradition alive almost 4 years later. Mariam says the group remains as close-knit as ever, even though they are now far-stretched geographically.

“Since graduation last year,” Mariam says, “we’ve settled all over the US – from Dallas and New York to Los Angeles and Shanghai. Regardless of distance, our friendship has kept up over the years.”

Although Elfster has helped the group to maintain this bond, Mariam says the exchanges have been known to become competitive, too, with some of the friends trying to ascertain their Secret Santa’s identity well before the final swap.

“As with any good secret gift exchange,” she admits, “we always have a few friends who try to figure out who has who.”

All of this begs the question: Has Mariam ever exploited her position as exchange organizer to drop “helpful hints” to the devious detectives of the group? No way, she says.

According to Mariam, “They would often try to get me to use my admin/exchange host rights to confirm their algorithm of clues matching friends up.” But in the end, she says, “I didn’t succumb.”

The good-natured guessing game will continue this holiday season, it appears, as the women of 14C plan their latest gift exchange on Elfster.

The women of 14C all agree, Elfster is a great way to stay in touch over the holidays, as well as over the years. “We’ve had great experiences with Elfster. Using it to set up our gift exchanges helped bridge our busy schedules in college and now our distances across the country and globe.”

Photos courtesy of: Mariam Shahab and Erika Lam