Halloween in the USA

Get your costume ready! Halloween is only a few short days away, and for Americans that means parties, festivals, parades, candy, and maybe even a few tricks. At this point you have probably noticed that your neighborhood has begun to take on a playfully ghastly appeal, with people adorning their homes with carved pumpkins and ghosts and skeletons. Although it may seem strange to decorate one’s house with such gruesome objects, what most people don’t even realize is that they are actually participating in a European tradition that dates back to the 1500’s and was carried over to the States by our more recent ancestors.

 Anja Carving her Pumpkin

It is a widely held belief that the modern Halloween traditions of carving pumpkins, wearing disguises, begging for treats, and practicing mischief are all remnants of Celtic and Christian rituals. The Celtic rituals were performed in the fall after harvest was complete, and symbolized a time of the year when the earth was caught between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In later years, Christians, in honor of deceased saints and faithful followers, would celebrate All Saints Day, the preceding evening being titled All Hallows Eve, during which children and poor people would dress in guise and beg for food.

 pumpkin patch 2

The traditions were carried over to the United States during the large influx of European immigrants in the early 1900, when many Irish and Scottish were trying to escape the Great Potato Famine that was decimating food supplies in their home countries. The practice of carving pumpkins comes also from this culture, whose people were accustomed to carving turnips and placing candles inside. Because pumpkins were easier to carve and more abundant, the pumpkin took the turnip’s place and became the traditional symbol for Halloween in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more about the story of the Jack O’ Lantern, click on this link.


Today, many of the celebrated Halloween traditions include trick or treating, bonfires, costumes, parties and games. Kids will flock to the streets dressed as witches, superheroes, ghosts and pirates, knocking on doors for candy and arranging games like bobbing for apples. If you are new to American culture, all of this may seem odd to you, but for the most part it is all in good fun.

 pumpkin patch

If you think this sounds like fun try joining this year’s ISE Halloween Costume contest. You can win a bag of ISE goodies and have your picture on the ISE Facebook page for your friend and family back home to see. Just go to this website www.iseusa.com/Student_Exchange_Promotions.cfm?&#contestEntry and submit the photo of yourself dressed for Halloween. Then you can vote on the best costume.

 pumpkin patch 4

Have a safe and happy Halloween!


Caring for Your Community: Serving with Project HELP

If you have been following Exchange Blog for the last few weeks, you may have noticed several reoccurring themes: getting involved, being a part of something larger than yourself, and reaching out to people in your community. One of the reasons for all the repetition is that these are important parts of being an exchange student, and the fastest way to become acclimated to your new home. The other reason is that becoming an active member of your community will not only help you adjust, but will help you to grow as a person. Helping others and practicing empathy is a productive path toward personal discovery and self-awareness. And so, without further deviation, may we introduce Project HELP.

Church ImageProject HELP is an outreach initiative that began in 2007 as a way for ISE and the students we sponsor to give to back to the communities that make this program possible. Since its inception, Project HELP has donated hundreds of thousands of service hours to local and national charities, outreach organizations, and other nonprofits that offer help to those in need. During the ISE J-1 program, each student is required to perform at least five service hours, which amounts to about one Saturday afternoon. However, most student preform between twenty and one hundred hours during the program.


So what does this mean for you? Well, consider the many people whose efforts have gone into helping you realize your dream of being an exchange student: the volunteers, the organizations, the government officials, the administration of your school, and the people of the community in which you live. Their coordinated efforts helped make the exchange program possible, and giving something back is a way of showing your appreciation. In addition, getting out into the neighborhood and lending a hand to those in need will help you get to know your American neighbors, make friends, and foster a positive relationship with your community. In doing so you will get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that only benevolent acts can bring.


There are many opportunities out there for those who want to help. Start with a local search of the charitable or not-for-profit organizations in your area, such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, food pantries, soup kitchens, and public services that accept volunteers. If these are not available, offer to rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor in need, or start a community cleanup group that will help remove litter from your neighborhood or a local park. If you are looking for something a little bigger, this year ISE has partnered with Ronald McDonald House and the Red Cross to coordinate safe and fun projects for students who want to help their communities. Just go to https://www.iseusa.com/student-project-help.cfm to learn more about what is out there.

Community Service

Your efforts to help those around you will help you and your fellow students achieve the diplomatic goals of the Exchange Visitor program by showing people that we can all work together regardless of from where we come. Your community will be grateful for your help, and you are guaranteed to have a lot of fun in the process.

Ana & Oli

As always, please take care when conducting a service project. Adult supervisors should be present and emergency contact information should be collected in the event of accidents. Be safe! Good luck and have a great fall.