Bringing Your Holiday to the United States

The holiday season is upon us! Gatherings, gifts, vacations, and voyages are underway for the many end-of-year celebrations that take place in the U.S., and for the numerous diverse groups across the country there is plenty to celebrate.


While Christmas may dominate the landscape of December in the U.S., there are many different celebrations that take place between November and January. Hanukah and Kwanza are some of the more familiar end-of-year traditions, but there are also other celebrations like the Dongzhi Festival, celebrated by Eastern Asian cultures, the Pancha Ganapati festival, celebrated by Hindus, or Bodhi Day, celebrating the enlightenment of Bhudda.

Salvation Army

Most of these festivals share a common thread. They are all concerned with closing the year, welcoming the New Year, or concern an important religious or historical figure to whom an homage is paid. The festival of Pancha Ganapati, for example, honors the lord Pancha Ganapati and the deity Ganesha, and is a time for celebration and spiritual reflection on one’s past. The image of the deity is honored with different colored robes for each of the five days of the celebration, as well as tinsel and colorful flashing lights. Like Christmas, Pancha Ganapati, Hanukah, and the others are all celebrations that call for gatherings and feasting and are occasions for family and friends to spend time together.

Wayne with her exchange students

Some of the greatest aspects of these holiday celebrations are the different traditions that each family enjoys. Even within individual cultures and religions people celebrate the same holidays in different ways. For example, it is a widespread tradition for Christian families in the U.S. to gather for a large dinner on Christmas Eve, but in several areas of the country Christmas Eve is celebrated with fireworks and gift exchanges wait until Christmas morning.

Mingrui - Snow

The diversity in holiday traditions is what makes the season such an exciting time of year. Festivities and fun come in many different forms, and for our foreign visitors that is an important part of living abroad during this time of year. The reason the United States has such varied traditions for end-of-year celebrations is because of the worldwide influx of different cultures that have come to America over the years and shared their history with one another.

Visiting Santa

Exchange visitors are also largely responsible for creating new family traditions when it comes to the holidays, because each student and family impact one another’s’ lives in such a profound way. As an exchange visitor this is a great time to tell host family members and friends what your holiday traditions are and how your family likes to celebrate them. What kind of holiday decoration do you have in your home country? Are there any games your family and friends play that you can show to your host family?


Take this opportunity to learn as much as you can and show others what the holidays mean to you. Have a safe and healthy holiday season!


Staying Sane During the Holidays!

Saying that one time of year is more hectic than another in America is probably a notion at which an exchange student would scoff. For our foreign visitors “hectic” is a common state of being, a natural way of life. But it is often said that the litany of holidays that fall between November and the New Year create a stressful time of year in which everyone is scrambling to shop, spend time with friends and family, and finish off all of their holiday plans before the new year comes around.

Grand Canyon

 At a time like this it is hard not to get caught up in the frenzy and miss out on the last few weeks of the exchange program. For semester students who will be returning to their home countries in January, there may be as few as four to five weeks left of the semester, which means our time together is rapidly drawing to a close.


For sake of all program participants, it is important to remember that part of the program is the opportunity to take in the surroundings, make friends, and learn as much as possible. These goals are hard to attain while being constantly bombarded by mid-term exams, wish lists, and making preparations for a return trip.

Bengals Game

Instead, keep in mind that the trip will be over shortly and it is a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished. What about this experience was the most enjoyable? Was there anything you could have done or wanted to do that was not available? Here are a few tips to help you remember your experience:

Reds Game

1)   Take pictures: These days cameras are abundant and of high quality, even the ones installed in most cell phones. Take photos with friends, family members, teachers, and anyone else that was important to you. It might bore your family and friends back home to sit through your slideshow, but each photo will remind you of a very important moment.

2)   Get phone numbers and email addresses: Make sure that you can keep in touch with your friend after you leave. You may want to talk to them some day down the road and realize that you never got around to saving an email address. Facebook works well, also, but can often be unreliable when you are on a first name basis with many of your friends.

3)   Remember to say your “thank yous”: A small gift or a card for your family and teachers will ensure that they never forget you. It is a great way to show your gratitude and let people know that you appreciated your time here.

4)   Visit your local Historical Society or a regional museum: Many of these educational places will have pamphlets and icons that you can bring home to show people you know what the area you lived in was like. It will also make you look smart when you can recite facts about the area in which you lived.

Ye Zhong - Grand Teton

Most of all, try to enjoy the last few weeks of the season. Treasure the time you have left and try your hardest to let your host family know if you had a good time living in your host community.

Rest assured you will be missed. ISE wishes all of our students and host families a happy holiday season. Be safe and be well.