When you're hosting a foreign exchange student, the holidays can be tricky. No matter how well-adjusted your student is to life in your home, in his or her new school, and in the United States, the holidays are a time when homesickness can take hold. This is especially true if your student has strong holiday traditions with his or her family back home. As a host family, it's up to you to help your student through what can be a rocky, lonely time. Here are some ways to do just that.
Host a holiday get-together with other students and their host families. Involve your student in the planning, the guest list and the menu. One idea is to ask attendees to bring a dish that is popular on the holidays in their home countries. You're accomplishing much with this one request. You're filling up what could be a lonely time for your students, and other students, by creating community. You're also encouraging other students to share their holiday customs with their host families, and you're reminding all of the exchange students you invite that they're not alone.
Ask your student about holiday customs in his or her home country, and incorporate those traditions into your celebration. Even if you've done the holidays the same way your entire life, now is the time to grow and expand. Ask your student to explain their holiday traditions to your family, the typical dishes they serve, how they celebrate, whether gifts are involved, the typical music of the time, and other things. It's a way for students to immerse themselves in their own traditions, even though they're a world away. It's also a great learning opportunity for you and your family to become familiar with your student's culture.
Set aside a day to cook your student's favorite holiday dishes. Whether they're sweet or savory, traditional holiday foods bring people back to their childhoods and their homes. Spend a Saturday in the kitchen with your student, cooking and baking the foods he or she loves.
Take your student on a trip to New York City or a nearby town that does it up right for Christmas. Some cities and towns go all out for Christmas, whether it's the country's largest light display on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota; or the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the decorated department store windows and skating rink in New York City. If you can swing it, take your student to experience the splendor of the holidays in a place that does it up right.
Have your student participate in your family's special holiday traditions. When you've made your student's favorite holiday dishes, now it's time to incorporate your student into your traditions. Take a day to bake cookies, involve them in shopping for your holiday dinner, have your student participate in your family's Secret Santa gift exchange — your student should be involved in anything your family does to celebrate. Remind family members to include your student in gift giving, also.
At Youth For Understanding, we're here to help you give your student the best possible study abroad experience. Contact us to find out more.