By Solomon Barbu (YES 2019-20, Liberia, hosted by IRIS in Hampton, IA)
Spending time away from your family, friends, and everyone you grew up with can be really hard, especially for a whole year. Homesickness can grow rapidly during celebrations of major holidays away from home and all the traditions that you are used to. Despite that, I’ve used the holidays during my exchange year to connect with my host family rather than being homesick. Holidays are very engaging and an important part of the culture in the U.S. from what I’ve experienced and it has had a great impact on my exchange experience.
Halloween was the first American holiday that I celebrated. I didn’t really understand the reason Halloween is celebrated but it was fun and a little scary. Going to haunted houses with my host family and friends, carving pumpkins, and giving candies to kids who came for trick or treating all went great.
Thanksgiving in America is more about spending time with loved ones, sharing meals together, and most of all, being grateful for having them in your life. We had two family dinners before heading out to North Carolina. Turkey was my favorite meal. One was with my host mom’s family and the other with my host dad’s. It was a long road trip but it was worth it. We did a lot of fun activities while on our adventure and I got to meet my friend Ben from Liberia and his host family along with Khalil from Tunisia. Thanksgiving is a time to be appreciative of every little thing you have, including your host family, American friends, host community, and a lot more.
Christmas was my most favorite among the holidays I’ve celebrated in the U.S. I enjoyed caroling with the youth groups, opening presents, playing games, decorating the Christmas tree at church but most important for me, was the love shared I shared with my host family and the memories we made together. Christmas and Thanksgiving are celebrated in Liberia but I had never been more excited about these holidays like the way I was in the last few months. I feel at home here because everyone cares. Holidays here have made me build strong bonds with my host family and host community as well.
The first portion of my exchange year has been really great, but I am positive that the remaining months of my experience in 2020 are going to be even greater!