International Flavor: Exchange students bring a taste of Christmas around the world

By PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer

Dec 21, 2007 - The flavors of Christmas around the world were celebrated Sunday night at the International Foreign Exchange Student Christmas Potluck Dinner held at Our Savior Lutheran Church.

Staff Photo by Patti Sells

Pictured left to right at the International Foreign Exchange Student Christmas Potluck Dinner are, left to right, (front) Becky Sanderson, Dayana Lauricella of Venezuela, Luiza Dantonio of Brazil, Gene Westbrook, Ina Jensen of Germany, Nancy and Skip Lee,Ken Lee, Avis Roberts and Cheryl Norton. Not pictured are Mona Bender of Germany, Hanna Sorjonen of Finland, Estelle Burban of France, and Peter Hassel of Norway.

Six countries were represented by seven area exchange students from Germany, Finland, France, Norway, Venezuela and Brazil, who each prepared recipes from their homeland to share with host families and friends.

Christmas in Venezuela is celebrated much the way it is here in America, according to 17-year-old Dayana Lauricella.

"Cooking, family, Santa, presents," she listed. 

The senior at Miller Grove High School served ensalada de gallina, a type of potato salad with shredded chicken, carrots and apples.

She said the Christmas event not only gave her a chance to call home and speak with her mother, but also the opportunity to learn to cook.

With the help of her host mother, Becky Sanderson, the regional manager for DM Discoveries Exchange Student Program, she also prepared a popular Venezuelan dessert called quesillo, similiar to flan, the custard-like dessert served in many Mexican restaurants.

Other dishes prepared for the event included pasta salads, black beans and rice, German potato salad, brigadeiro chocolate balls and streuselkuchen (crumb cake).

Not only did the celebration let the students reconnect with their homeland, it also allowed them to connect with their host moms.

"We really bonded," said Sandy Brown, an English teacher at Sulphur Springs High School and first=time host mother who encourages other families to get involved with exchange students. "They are all wonderful. I haven't come across one yet that I wouldn't want to take home."

Five more student exchanges are expected in January, so five more host families are needed, according to Sanderson, who has hosted more than 40 students in the past 15 years. 

According to Sanderson, hosting exchange students has been a very positive experience for her family.

"It has been a wonderful cultural experience for our home," said Sanderson, the mother of a 23-year-old son who was raised with lots of "brothers and sisters" from all over the world.

"He learned things that were not in the history books — languages, food, cultures," she said. "They've become our extended families, and we still keep in touch."

The exchange program is also in need of area representatives to help place students.

"You work on your own time, and there are lots of incentives," Sanderson explained. "For every student placed, you get $900. There are lots of benefits to both representatives and host families."

DMD's stated goal is to increase cultural and global awareness in American communities, schools and families by allowing foreign students to interact and become involved in everyday activities.

Sharing cross-cultural experiences could influence the decisions of the leaders of tomorrow, both in America and other countries, ultimately promoting a more peaceful world, according to the DMD Corporation.

"It's important for us to show other countries how we live," said Cheryl Norton, an area representative. "And it's important for our kids to learn from them."

"We are here to learn, but we also teach," said Luiza Dantonio, a 16-year-old from Brazil. "Many kids think we speak Spanish in Brazil, but we speak Portuguese. They don't know."

Though many of the Christmas customs are the same, the students said life in America is very different for them.

"It's like a different world," said Luiza. "It's not the same — different people, different food, customs. We learn a lot, and it is an experience we take with us always."

For more information on how to become a host family or area representative, call Becky Sanderson at 903-348-4002.

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