International Students To Experience Christmas, American-style

Dec. 16, 2003

by Marianne May, student writer

While most Baylor University students have eagerly anticipated Christmas morning since they were toddlers, some students will be experiencing their very first Christmas celebration this year.

"It's really special for me, being an international student, to experience Christmas here in the U.S.," said Betty Feng, an exchange student from China. "Before I came here, I thought Christmas was just about Santa, a pretty tree and gifts... I'm looking forward to learning more."

Feng, a junior from Tsinghua University in Beijing, will spend the full year studying at Baylor.

"We do not really celebrate Christmas in China," she said, "Most adults don't even know when Christmas is."

In China, Feng said, children look forward to Spring Festival, when the Chinese celebrate the New Year.

"Kids get excited for 'lucky money'--little red envelopes filled with spending money," she said. "Spring festival is a really big holiday. Most people will travel to be with their families, no matter where they are."

Chinese families share special food--dumplings, fish and meats and eight treasure rice, a sweet dessert. They also celebrate with firecrackers and lion and dragon dances in the streets.

In Christy Chan's home, families also celebrate the Chinese New Year.

"We enjoy spending time with family during the Chinese New Year and the Autumn Moon Festival in the fall," she said.

Chan, a Hong Kong Baptist University senior, plans to take advantage of the Christmas holiday to travel to Florida with several other international students and to host her boyfriend, who is traveling from Hong Kong to visit her.

Most international students will not return home for the holidays, but according to Phyllis Merritt, a missionary-in-residence with Baylor's Baptist Student Ministries, the number of students who do go home is growing.

"Twenty years ago, most internationals stayed all four years [without going home]," she said.

Merritt and her husband, Jack, have worked with international students in New York City for 33 years, and she expressed concern for the international students who do stay here in the U.S over the holidays.

"A commonly quoted statistic says that in the United States, 80 to 90 percent of international students are never invited into an American home," she said. "Here at Baylor, the percentage is much better than that. We really try to find a place for them to stay."

Beth Walker, adviser for campus and community involvement in the office of international programs, said that most international students are assigned "welcome families" during their stay at Baylor.

"We have families all over Waco who befriend students, and many will invite students to their homes over the holidays," she said.

Some students have chosen to sign up with international home stay programs, such as Christmas International House (www.ChristmasIH.org), which places students in homes throughout the country.

Most of those students will be experiencing their very first Christmas in the United States, giving them something to look forward to in the midst of final exams.

"I don't have any idea what Christmas is really about," Feng said, who will leave in a little over a week to spend Christmas with a former teacher in New York. "I'm looking forward to learning more about it."

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