Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sharing Christmas With International Students

A Christmas Celebration

Today's post is my story that appeared in the 2007 Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas 2007. I wrote the story one evening in December after the Czech exchange students we hosted that year had been to our home for a Christmas celebration dinner. They were leaving the next day to travel around the USA on their Christmas/semester break. I had been so moved by the evening that I knew I had to write about it. A simple story about simple things.


It’s The Simple Things
 By Nancy Julien Kopp


Ken and I have been a host family for Czech exchange students who come to study at Kansas State University for the past 6 or 7 years. The students live on their own, but we are there to answer questions, show them around town when they arrive, and invite them to our home for dinner now and then. They lead busy lives, but we e-mail or phone to keep in touch.

This year, we have two young women who are both majoring in the study of Architecture. Jana and Klara attend university in Prague, but both come from smaller towns in the Czech Republic. They arrived in the USA the day after the new airline regulations regarding what can be carried on and what must be checked went into effect. The day before they left home, their luggage had to be sorted out and rearranged to meet the new regulations. Then there was a paperwork snafu in New York when they went through immigration and customs. Before they knew what happened, they were taken to a tiny room filled to overflowing with other immigrants who had problems of one kind or another. Most all the people in there were from Asian countries or the Arab world. These two tall blonde girls huddled together in a corner expecting the worst. Finally, the paperwork got sorted out and they had to find a new flight to Kansas City since they’d missed their connecting flight with the delay. The customs officials in New York refused to help them, so they marched off to find the counter for their airline and managed to get on another flight with the help of a kind and resourceful ticket agent.

Meanwhile, we knew only that they had not arrived when they were scheduled. Once they knew what flight they would be on, they did call and a full twenty-four hours beyond the expected time, they arrived at our door--desperately tired, longing for a shower, and hungry after traveling nearly two full days and nights. They spent their first week with us in our home while looking for housing and getting registered on campus. We spent the time getting to know one another and taking them to meetings and testing places on campus as well as orienting them to our community. At the end of the week, they had found a little house to rent with two other Czech students and were ready to begin the semester’s classes.

That hot August week seems so long ago. In early December I invited Klara and Jana and their two housemates to come to dinner to celebrate Christmas. Most of the exchange students travel around the USA during the holiday break, so we try to provide an evening of Christmas cheer for them each year, as it is often the only Christmas celebration they will have. It is heartwarming to watch the wonder and joy on their faces when they walk into our home and see the decorated tree and other Christmas symbols throughout the house. We have a special meal and linger at the table to talk about Christmas traditions in their country and ours. I place a candy cane above each dinner plate, and this year’s group were as surprised as all the others in years past. Candy canes are not known in the Czech Republic, and the students like them. I guess it is because they are something different. “What do they taste like?” they usually ask. Try and describe “peppermint” sometime. It’s not easy. One of the young men said he was going to Walmart to buy many candy canes to send home to Prague for Christmas.

Turns out it’s the simple things that mean something to these young people far from their families and their own country. A home-cooked meal, conversation, knowing someone cares about them and maybe having a candy cane for the first time. For Ken and me, it’s another simple thing. We end up receiving far more than we give with all of the students we’ve had. Not every Christmas gift comes in a box with wrapping paper and a bow.


Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas (2007)

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