The holidays can be a time of great excitement and joy as you share your family and community traditions with your host student(s). For many students, their understanding of what the holidays are like in the United States will come from a movie or TV show. Your student may feel a sense of excitement at this magical time of year to experience the holidays first hand with their American family. The holidays can also be a time of emotional upheaval and increased homesickness for hosted students as they miss their own family traditions. As the holidays also bring with them days off from school, the lack of structure in student’s daily lives bring with them both valuable opportunities to rest and restore, and spend memorable time together with your family, though they can also sometimes bring with them sometimes a mixture of other feelings, including possibly boredom and isolation.
AFS recommends families talk and plan in advance with their students their plans for the holidays. Consider the following discussion topics as you navigate this emotional time of hosting experience.
- Take some time to discuss with your participant all that the holiday season means to your family, or doesn’t mean, so they understand what to expect.
- Discuss your participant's perception of the holidays and how that may differ from your family’s expectations. Is there an activity your student is really looking forward to?
- Invite them to compare your traditions with their major home country holidays - find similarities and differences, what values are reflected in each?
- Look into ways that you share holiday traditions with the school and community.
- If your student celebrates different holidays in their home country, or celebrates the same holidays in different ways, can you find a way to incorporate their traditions in with your family, school, and community?
- Create a calendar together that includes all of the fun activities around your family’s traditional holidays and then ask your student to include their holidays and traditions too so they feel included and you have even more to celebrate together
- Have you thought about preparing traditional holiday foods from all of the major holidays celebrated in the US and giving some background on each of them, even if they are not practiced in your home?
- Show them how you prepare your favorite traditional dishes and talk about why they are important to you.
- Encourage your hosted student to tell you about traditional dishes from their holidays
- If possible, offer to get some ingredients for those dishes and encourage them to prepare a dish or two or prepare them together.
- If going to a place of worship is integral to the holidays you celebrate, explain why that is important and what it entails and ask your student(s) if they would like to join you. Remember AFS students should not be forced to attend religious services but engaging in services with your family as a cultural experience should be encouraged.
- If you think your student is struggling emotionally around the holidays encourage them to open up to you and discuss how they are feeling.
- If they continue to struggle reach out to your liaison for extra support and advice.