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Christmas is midpoint for foreign exchange student PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jes-c Brandt   

Since her arrival to Holyoke in August, Switzerland native Severine Barras has been welcoming new experiences with open arms. The recent holiday season has been especially full of chances to explore American culture.

Thanksgiving is, of course, a distinctly American holiday. Barras noted there is no such holiday in Switzerland, and it was interesting to be a part of the Elliotts’ Thanksgiving Day. The whole season has a different feel, she added, because Christmas plans start so early in America.

Also new to her this season has been the Holyoke weather. Barras noted her hometown does get cold and snowy, but the big shock has been the wind here. “Sideways snow” has been something that takes getting used to. But at least she got the white Christmas she was dreaming of, she joked.

Christmas itself is a holiday Barras enjoys in Switzerland, but experiencing it with the Elliotts in America was still different and exciting. The time surrounding Christmas Day, for example, differs greatly between the two countries. In Switzerland she is used to working up to Christmas Eve, but she has appreciated the extra days of vacation here.

While Barras enjoys cooking at home, this Christmas she really got into the spirit baking holiday treats with her host family. The Elliotts also made a trip to choose and cut their own Christmas tree and traveled to spend time with nearby family, giving Barras a genuine American Christmas experience.

Despite all the new experiences, Christmas in America is also without some traditions Barras is used to back home. In Switzerland, she and her family attend a large Christmas mass every year. The small Holyoke service, she noted, just couldn’t compare to the gathering of thousands she is accustomed to.

Barras noted her Holyoke Christmas experience was also without a celebration she had always taken for granted: Santa Claus Day. In Switzerland on Dec. 6 the German parts of the country celebrate Santa’s coming out of the forest and the French population honors St. Nicholas coming from Heaven for Christmas. Having both German and French ties, Barras has had her share of both traditions.

One interesting thing Barras noticed upon coming to Holyoke was the large number of German families in the area, and some of the German Christmas traditions are still evident during the holidays here.

Much to Barras’ surprise, some of the most striking Christmas differences were the small things. Take stockings, for example. American families think nothing of hanging socks at Christmastime, but that is one tradition that makes Barras laugh just thinking about it. To her, stockings are a thing of movies and stories, and they symbolize a typical American Christmas.

During a time of year with a heavy emphasis on family, Barras could not shake the feeling that she was missing out on time at home, but she is grateful for a host family that she gets along with and makes her feel welcome for Christmas.

Now that Christmas has passed, Barras reflects on her academic year abroad. It’s hard to believe her time in Holyoke is already half gone, and the second half semester is sure to go by even faster, she observed.

“I don’t know if I should be happy or sad,” Barras said. On the one hand, she will soon see friends and family she hasn’t seen for months. But on the other hand, she has made friends in Holyoke that she doesn’t look forward to leaving. She has a limited time left in America, and Barras knows she needs to make the most of it, spending time with her host family and friends, improving her English and getting all that she can out of life in a new culture.

In the coming months, Barras will continue school and HHS basketball, and she plans to participate in the spring musical. Additionally, she looks forward to traveling throughout the United States. Planned destinations include California, Washington D.C. and Cleveland, Ohio.

Commenting on her time already spent in America, Barras noted it has been a period of great growth and learning. It’s an entirely different life here, and she is thankful for the chance to live with a new family, go to a new school and spend time in a rural setting.