Thanksgiving and Christmas rank high on exchange students’ list of most-anticipated experiences in the US. At the same time students have extra time off from the distractions of school and extracurricular activities, which can cause them to dwell on family gatherings and holiday traditions they will miss this year. Here are some tips on how to navigate the holidays with your student:

1- Make your student feel “at home” welcome: Exchange Programs Southern California.

  • Introduce your student to new friends and family members at holiday gatherings.
  • Help initiate and facilitate conversations between the student and others. Your student and Great Uncle Joe may not know what to make of each other at first!
  • Invite your student to describe their own holiday traditions, and consider incorporating one or more of these into your celebrations this year.
  • Give the student a job to do when possible and appropriate, such as setting the table or putting tinsel on the tree.
  • Include a stocking for your student on the mantle with any others.
  • Have something for your student to open at gift exchanges, whether it’s something small you provide or a surprise gift or message from friends and family members back home.
  • Draw the student out of their bedroom for family time when they have been spending too much time alone.


2- Don’t feel pressure to go overboard: Remember students are here to participate in your family’s everyday life, and that includes celebrating the holidays in your usual manner. Don’t run yourself ragged trying to orchestrate elaborate, Hallmark-worthy occasions. Here are some simple but memorable ways to commemorate the season, requiring little or no extra effort or expense:

  • Have a family movie night to watch holiday classics.
  • Attend a local tree lighting or Christmas pageant.
  • Bake Christmas cookies.
  • Decorate a gingerbread house.
  • Put up a Christmas tree.
  • Take a photo with Santa.
  • Drive around after dark to see light displays.
  • Go caroling.
  • Volunteer at a food bank or toy drive.
  • Watch the ball drop in Time’s Square from the comfort of your own living room.

Preparing your student and yourself for the upcoming holidays will set you up for success versus stress. Helping your student feel like a welcome part of your plans will help them focus on their experience here and fight off holiday homesickness. Sharing simple but special experiences and exchanging thoughtful holiday gifts with your student will create lasting memories and allow you to enjoy this special time of year without being overwhelmed and over budget.

Merry Christmas!