Exchange students from all over the world travel far and wide for the experience of a lifetime, but no matter how enriching the experience is, it’s still tough to be away from home during the holidays.
Rotary exchange student Camila Herrera is spending the holidays with the Bellairs family in Woodstock. She’s excited to experience Christmas and New Year celebrations in small-town America, but it’s a long way from her home in Santiago, Chile.
“I try not to Skype my family, especially my dog,” she said.
When twinges of homesickness creep in, Herrera said she keeps herself busy and tries not to be alone. “I made the decision to be here,” she said, expressing her desire to experience prom, dance competitions and graduation. “I do things to remember [why I’m here].”
Things she’s done to keep busy during the holidays in Woodstock have included delivering food and gifts for Christmas Clearing House and performing a holiday-themed halftime routine with the WHS dance team.
Although she’s enjoying all the season has to offer, Herrera said, “I’m tired of the cold.”
When she arrived in Woodstock Aug. 11, her corner of the world was just finishing with winter and heading into spring, so she missed the Chilean summer. Now, as our hemisphere enters the depths of winter, her hometown is enjoying the warmth of summer.
Christmas in Chile is a summertime celebration. Herrera described Christmas as a very important time for her family; the only time they have a big dinner. The evening starts around 5 p.m. when they start cooking and set the table. Family members dress up, gather around the table and through flickering candlelight they reflect on the past year and share their expectations for the upcoming year.
“Its usually a very nice moment,” Herrera said.
Following dinner, most of the family goes for a walk to enjoy the lights and decorations in the neighborhood, giving the parents time to place gifts under the tree. Presents are opened at midnight, and, afterwards, the family will continue to talk or listen to music.
New Year’s Eve is another family-oriented celebration. Herrera traditionally spends time with family including her grandpa. Her neighborhood is filled with the sounds of fireworks and salsa dance music.
At midnight, she said, everyone goes out into the city streets. “We hug and tell [each other] our best wishes for the year.”
The reality is that she won’t be able to be home with her family this year. “It’s kind of sad and exciting at the same time,” she said “I will do some things very different.”