No matter where we come from, what we look like or what language we speak, holiday traditions are sure to take a central role in our cultural identity. That’s what’s so special about sharing life with an exchange student during this time of year! Host families and coordinators discover the joy of sharing age-old traditions. Students jump in with fresh enthusiasm. Everybody laughs and learns!

“Christmas with these kids is the most fun time of the year!” said host mom and coordinator Carolyn Kitzmiller from Michigan.

Take Santa Claus, for example! Saint Nicholas is a tradition shared among many countries, but the American spin on Santa Claus is a fun favorite of every iE student!

Angie's christmas partyExchange students near Forth Worth, TX had a ‘surfin’ Christmas party at
Costa Vida restaurant. Thanks to the vision of coordinator Angie Roye, each student also brought an item to donate to a local children’s charity!

“The party was so fun,” shares Angie, “and I love getting to know the students better!”

During the party, gifts were exchanged, and then each student got to take a picture with Surfin’ Santa!

Another American tradition loved by children and parents across the nation is the simple art of cookie decorating!

cookie girlThis year, iE encouraged students to practice their skills in a decorating contest! Over 50 students participated by decorating Christmas cookies OR constructing gingerbread house masterpieces. It was a big hit!

Coordinators Ann Glazener, Lisa Willbur, and Sarah Boucher each decided to run with the opportunity to help make their students’ holiday “merry and bright.” Each of these dedicated ladies hosted cookie decorating parties in their homes or in the homes of host parents. Students decorated cookies, gingerbread houses, and even made other custom baked goods!

Pictured: Margherita from Germany decorated a bell-shaped cookie!


Ann Glazener, a Local Coordinator in Texas, had her students and host families gather for a gingerbread house decorating party, cookie exchange AND sock exchange. They all loved it!

gingerbread house

Zhouhao Zheng is one of Ann’s students who really got into the spirit of the party! His house was meticulously decorated and displayed with pride.

For many students, the holiday season can be especially difficult, since for it’s often the first time they’ve spent the holidays away from family.

The comradery and diversion provided by  something so simple (and sweet!) as a party reminds students of the enormous gift they’re receiving this season: the gift of a second home, a new life, and a new family.


Thank you to all the local coordinators for putting in the extra effort in arranging these fun gatherings! Thanks to all the students for attending AND sharing your best decorated cookie and gingerbread for the competition! And thank you to our HOST FAMILIES, who make all of this possible!

Happy Holidays!!