A Holiday Meal for Intercultural Exchange
Christmas is a holiday traditionally spent with family and close friends. When you’re on Erasmus, going home for the holidays is not always possible. Multiple cities across Europe offer a solution for those who spend Christmas in their Erasmus city.
Hosting exchange students for the holiday meal during the winter holidays seems to have become a tradition for many locals in popular Erasmus cities. In different countries all across Europe, Erasmus students who decided not to return home for Christmas spend the holidays with local families, experiencing local traditions and enjoying “the most wonderful time of the year” in a different way. A little while ago, I had the opportunity to interview a student who hosted an Erasmus for the Christmas Eve meal. I called Marcin on Skype hoping to collect some interesting information about the tradition. He greeted me with enthusiasm and proceeded to answer all my questions with remarkable joy! Here’s everything this student from Łódź, Poland, had to say.
The University of Łódź sent out an email to both its exchange students and its local ones, asking them to participate in this exchange of traditions and customs. Marcin thought it would be a great way to share the local traditions with a foreigner and to enrich the classic Christmas Eve meal with an extra guest.
“It is a Polish tradition,'' he says, “to have an extra plate at the Christmas table. It is for a foreigner or stranger who might knock on the door. This host an Erasmus student for the holidays programme allowed us the opportunity to actually have a stranger/foreigner with us on that special evening!
His guest was Deniz, a girl from Turkey. When she saw the invitation, she knew she wanted to experience Christmas with a local family, especially since Christmas is not celebrated in Turkey. She was excited to learn more about the culture of the country she was spending her exchange time in, and this programme gave her the opportunity to do just that.
Marcin tells me he believes it might have been a bit of a culture shock for his guest at first. Not speaking the language and being among strangers might have held Deniz back a bit, but soon enough, she felt comfortable enough with her host family.
She says she learned a lot about the local Christmas cuisine and holiday traditions, from singing carols and exchanging gifts with the family to trying 12 different Christmas dishes - a classic Polish tradition wants each festive table to have 12 dishes and for each person dining to try a bit from all of them.
I ask Marcin if he would ever consider hosting an exchange student again. He says yes with no hesitation. He feels like it was a fantastic opportunity for him and his family to get to know a person from a different culture. He mentions how his grandparents, who don’t speak a word of English, were friendly and put real effort into trying to make the guest feel cozy. By the end of the evening, they seemed to have almost forgotten Deniz was not Polish!
As for Deniz herself, she says she couldn’t be happier with her host family and the overall experience. She says she’d certainly be glad to do something similar in her own home in Turkey and advises anyone who has the chance to spend the holidays with locals not to be shy and simply do it. In her own words: “The experience is unforgettable”.