Foreign Exchange Students get Festive for Holiday Season

BY JILLIAN CORNACCHIONE

The holiday season is one of the most anticipated times of the year among people living in America. This year, Wadsworth High School had the opportunity to welcome much diversity as four young students from various places throughout the world have begun to experience what Americans refer to as “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Leenah Lathram, a student who traveled to the United States from Benghazi, Libya, has never experienced Christmas before. The holiday so many Americans love is not celebrated in her country.

Beam (second from left) had the opportunity to go ice skating with new friends that she met in America at an indoor arena in Wooster, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Peerda Techawongprasert

During religious holidays in Libya, Lathram and her family take part in customs that contrast greatly from those taking place in American households. For this reason, she is especially looking forward to having the opportunity to learn about traditions in a culture that is very different than her own.

“I want to experience a typical American Christmas and do everything kids do here,” said Lathram. “I want to build a snowman, watch Christmas movies, have big meals with family, and have sleepovers with friends.”

An exchange student from Bangkok, Thailand, shares this in common with Lathram. Peerada Techawongerasert (Beam) has also never experienced the holiday season.
“We don’t have Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Halloween in Thailand, so I am happy I can celebrate them in America,” said Bea

Not only have Lathram and Beam never encountered these holidays, but the climates in which Beam and Lathram come from are very different compared to that in Ohio. Temperatures in their countries are much hotter year round, which means these two exchange students are accustomed to significantly warmer weather.

Given these circumstances, neither Lathram nor Beam have witnessed snow in person prior to America, making this years’ first snowfall that occurred in mid-November a remarkable and memorable moment for both of them.

“I saw snow for the first time here,” said Lathram. “I love it because it is so pretty.”
Lathram looks forward to doing numerous winter activities that she has never had the chance to do before.


“I really want to make snow angels and build a snowman,” said Lathram. “And I definitely want to have snowball fights. I have to do all of those before I leave.”

To get into the Christmas spirit, Beam has already watched some popular Christmas movies, including The Grinch and Elf. She is also planning on helping her host family put up a Christmas tree and decorate their home.

One winter activity Beam recently had the opportunity to try was ice skating. From the moment she stepped on the ice, she was a natural at the task, noting that she did not fall once and could do a wide range of challenging tricks.

“I loved it,” said Beam. “My friend is a professional ice skater so she taught me how to spin and do a lot of cool tricks.”

Although Beam enjoys the holiday season, she is still adapting to Ohio’s winter weather. When she goes outside, she makes sure to wear several layers, a necessity to staying warm throughout the season.

Federico Orlandini (left) poses with Barret Labus, 11, after a Friday night football game. Orlandini is also playing basketball this season for the Grizzlies. Photo courtesy of Federico Orlandini.

Another way Beam copes with the cold is by drinking plenty of hot chocolate. During her time in America, she tasted hot chocolate for the first time and has since fallen in love with the popular holiday drink.

“When I went to the football games, I always got hot chocolate,” said Beam. “It is so good, and I love how it makes you warm when it is cold outside.”

As the holiday season progresses, both exchange students grow more and more eager for Christmas and look forward to experiencing the typical lifestyle of a kid living in Ohio during the winter season.

Along with Lathram and Beam, WHS also had the privilege of welcoming two additional foreign exchange students. Franzi Wenzi, who traveled to the United States from Stuttgart, Germany, and Federico Orlandini, an exchange student from Ancona, Italy. They both share many of the same traditions as families in America during the holidays.
Both students celebrate Christmas in their home country.

“In Germany, we have similar traditions,” said Wenzi. “I decorate the Christmas tree every year with my family, and we bake a lot of Christmas cookies. Then, the whole family comes over on Christmas day.”

Like those in America, Wenzi and her family exchange gifts during the holiday season. Wenzi and her friends also like to play outside when it snows in their hometown; they build snowmen and make snow angels. The climate in Stuttgart is fairly similar to that in Ohio, which has given Franzi the opportunity to do many of the things that kids living in Ohio do during winter. She also enjoys other outside activities, such as sledding and skiing.

Franzi Wenzi (right) and Leah Bardar, 12, drove to Cleveland to see the house from the popular American movie, A Christmas Story. The house is open year-round to the public for tours and overnight stays. Photo courtesy of Lynn Bardar

Orlandini takes part in the tradition of exchanging gifts with family as well.
“Every year on December 24th, I have dinner with all of my family,” said Orlandini. “Then we wait for midnight on December 25th, and we start to exchange gifts.”

However, the temperature is warmer in Ancona, Italy, than it is in Stuttgart or Ohio, and it almost never snows. Therefore, it is not unlikely that Orlandini has a Christmas without the appearance of snow. Because it is generally warm for most of the season, his family and friends are always out and about and don’t stay in their homes for too long at a time.

“We never stay at home during winter in Italy because outside is not as cold as it is here,” said Orlandini.

Although he will miss his loved ones, and their annual traditions around Christmas time, he is grateful he has the chance to experience the holiday season in a different environment surrounded by new faces.

Like Orlandini, Franzi is excited that she gets to see what Christmas is like in a new country, and she is more than ready for the holiday season.

Leenah Lathram snapped a selfie during her first encounter with snow so that she could reminisce this exhilarating moment in her life. Photo courtesy of Leenah Lathram

“I love the holidays,” said Wenzi. “It is such a happy time, and I can’t wait for Christmas day.”

Wenzi started getting into the holiday spirit as early as the beginning of November, whether it be by binge watching classic Christmas movies, such as The Polar Express and Christmas with the Kranks, or making her new room festive by decorating it and putting up a Christmas tree. She even traveled to Cleveland with her host family to see the spot where A Christmas Story was filmed. After seeing this location in person, she is excited to join in on her host family’s annual tradition of watching the movie on Christmas Eve.

Regardless of where each of these students comes from, or what traditions they take part in at home, one thing is certain: all four foreign exchange students are anticipating the unforgettable memories that they plan to make alongside new friends and family this holiday season.

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