Foreign exchange students find differences in ways Christmas is celebrated
Pilot Point High School students Foix Regull Sabate and Ihan Pasquotto have found several differences between the way they celebrate Christmas in their homelands and the way Americans do.
The two foreign exchange students will spend this Yuletide season with families in Pilot Point.
Foix is from Catalonia, in the southeast section of Spain. Ihan is from Sau Paulo, Brazil.
“First of all, our present day is another day,” Foix said, explaining gift exchange occurs on Three Kings Day, which is Jan. 6.
In Spain, people are aware of Santa Claus but “we don’t celebrate him,” said Foix, a sophomore. She said Americans are “crazy about lights,” with folks arranging lights in their homes. Back home, people don’t set up lights outside their homes.
“Inside, they can put up the tree and all the other stuff, but not outside the house,” she said.
Midnight Mass and gathering with family on Christmas day are similar in Spain, she said. In Spain, families eat a special dessert called Turro in addition to a main course that includes soup. After Christmas day, families have another celebration that includes another family meal.
“In my family, I usually spend Christmas Day with my mom’s family and after Christmas day, with my dad’s family,” she said, meaning her parents’ extended families.
In Brazil on Christmas Eve, everything is different, such as the food, said Ihan, a junior. Ihan’s family goes to church around 9 p.m. and then his immediate and extended family will go to his home.
“On Christmas Day, we have a dinner with turkey, rice, bean salad and some candies after,” he said.
Afterward, the family does the gift exchange. The family stays together on that day and enjoys one another’s company and perhaps watches a movie.
“On Christmas Day, it’s hot – it’s not cold – in Brazil,” he said.
Some families go to the pool or beach. Decorations outside the home can be found in Brazil, but they’re not as elaborate as they are here in the U.S.
“I cannot imagine going to the pool,” Foix said to Ihan, referring to the Christmas day activity in Brazil.
Both students have enjoyed their time here and said they like the school. Both intend to attend college, with Foix considering studying medicine and Ihan wanting to be an engineer.
The two host families have enjoyed the addition to their families this year.
“My daughter’s wanted to have this for a while, because there’s been a few [exchange students] in town before and she thought it would really fun, and then [after] my sister-in-law did it last year, we were sold,” said Julie Holloway, whose family is hosting Foix.
Host families go through an application and background check processes, Holloway said. Holloway and her family went through NorthWest Student Exchange, based in Seattle.
“As the host family, we get to choose the child who lives with us,” she said. “So we get applications, and we read through all the applications and picked the one that we think will fit best in our family.”
Host families pick the child’s gender, county and other data. The Holloways wanted a girl and someone who was Catholic. Kyle and Julie Holloway have a son, Caleb, a freshman, and Molly, a junior.
“She was just the perfect fit for us,” Holloway said, adding the family also wanted a country where they could go visit Foix.
Foix has become “like one of my own,” she said. “She’s definitely gone from being an exchange visitor to one of my children,” Holloway said.
Foix has participated in some activities in school, such as track, band and ag. “She’s going to show a goat,” Holloway said.
The Holloways have done and continue to do a number of activities with Foix, such as attending the State Fair of Texas and touring AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Julie wants Foix to try as many activities as possible. “We try to throw in as many Texas things in there as we can,” Holloway said.
For the Holloways, Christmas time is about “faith, family and friends,” Holloway said. The family visits and is visited by as many people as possible during the Christmas holidays.
Holloway said having a foreign exchange student has a two-fold benefit: It’s giving Foix an opportunity to be a part of something new and giving Caleb and Molly a chance to part of something enriching.
“They are learning just as much as she’s learning,” she said. The family has discovered the traditions in Spain are much different from those in the U.S., such as those involving decorations, both at home and at local retailers.
Kevin Ware, whose family also is Catholic, said this was the first time he and wife Mandie participated as a host family.
The Wares’ son, Connor, 16, is in band at PPHS, and there was a foreign exchange student last year at the school, and she was in band. The Wares have four children.
“Frankly, we just wanted to open our home and give the kids a chance to experience another person from another culture,” Kevin Ware said.
Ihan has fit into the rhythm and schedule of the family, Kevin said. The family – which also includes Cian, 14, Caide, 9, and Caelynn, 6 – has taken him to sporting events, movies, bowling and outings to Oklahoma, where the Wares have relatives.
“Whenever we go out to eat or whatever we do, he’s right there with us and so he’s literally a part of the family,” Kevin said.
The Wares will take Ihan skiing to Pagosa Springs, Colo., this year. The family will share their traditions with Ihan such as eating cinnamon buns and drinking coffee on Christmas morning. But going skiing at Christmas time is a first for the family, and they figured this would be the best time to go with Ihan there.
“He’s never seen snow, so we thought we’d take him to go see snow,” Kevin said.
As far as how Ihan has fit into the Ware family, Connor sees Ihan as “just another buddy,” he said.
“They hang out together in high school and band and do that kind of stuff,” Kevin said. “But the 14-year-old, 9-year-old and 6-year-old view him as more like a big brother.”
Kevin Ware expects the relationship will continue after Ihan leaves the U.S., he said, and Ihan’s family has invited the Wares to visit Brazil.