As we put away our Halloween costumes and begin to dream of cranberry sauce and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the exciting weeks ahead. Whether you’ll be traveling to visit the place where you grew up or welcoming family home to celebrate, you are surely excited for the all-American holiday that is Thanksgiving and thrilled to have the chance to share it with your exchange student.
But being abroad during the holidays can be tough, especially when you are not connected to the holiday that is being celebrated - or when your big holiday has arrived and no one else seems to be celebrating with you.
For Americans, that big holiday is Thanksgiving, when more people return home for a home-cooked meal than any other time of the year. Your student has their own "Thanksgiving," though, that they will be missing during their time with you. From moon cakes and decked out streets for the Chinese New Year to the incredible orange spectacular of the Dutch holiday of Queen’s Day, your student will be missing their country’s special day - and their family.
To ease the potential pain of the holidays, include your student in everything you can – from the meal preparation and decorations to the history of the event. They’ll be curious about American football, the food (marshmallows with sweet potatoes?!), and why some family members might be sneaking out at 11 p.m. to wait in line outside WalMart to score a great deal on holiday gifts. Come to think of it, you might need to explain that one to a few people!
As food preparation and consumption are focal points of Thanksgiving, this is a great time to include your student in many traditions rather than treat them as a guest. Share stories of Thanksgivings past as you get him/her peeling potatoes or setting the table. This not only will help your student feel even more a part of your family, but these are great opportunities to talk about the history of America and share how your ancestors came to the USA. Whether by Mayflower or Ellis Island, sharing how diverse America really is will break down stereotypes and give your student some wonderful stories to share upon her return home.
If they have a similar (or the same) event at home, ask them how it is celebrated and include some of those traditions in the day. More often than not, their special holiday will be unique, so it is important to find out what holidays they cherish and celebrate those as well. Not only will your student appreciate the gesture, but your family will have an awesome new cultural experience. And after all, isn’t that the point of hosting a student?