12/4/09

"Home" for the Holidays

In the States, holiday season reaches a crescendo during these first weeks of December, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Starbucks greets us with peppermint lattes even before we’ve stopped eating recycled Thanksgiving dinners, and the local CVS loses no time in pumping “White Christmas” through the overhead speakers. Here, holiday festivities are happily impossible to avoid.

For most WorldTeach volunteers, however, this year’s Thanksgiving wasn’t the usual American production characterized by turkeys and family assemblages. On this family-centric holiday, they were continents apart from their loved ones, in countries where Thanksgiving was unheard of and cranberry sauce was an unknown entity. As a testimony to the spunk and creativity of our volunteers, some WorldTeachers created a modified version of Thanksgiving dinner with their teammates, reproducing a little bit of American tradition with their surrogate “families.” The Thailand team managed to produce a full Thanksgiving dinner – complete with a hard-to-find turkey – which they ate on floor-mats, in traditional Thai style!



Above: Caitlyn Pisarski from the Thailand team shares some photos of her team's Thanksgiving dinner - successfully made with Thai ingredients!

For WorldTeach volunteers, Christmas is also unlikely to be the classic ensemble of caroling and mistletoe. For most, the only truly familiar elements of the holidays will be the ones they carry with them – family traditions that survived the continent swap, and favorite recipes that can be recreated with local ingredients. They face an unusual challenge: how to summon the “holiday spirit” without the aid of outside sources. (In fact, most volunteers will go the whole month of December without hearing Elvis’ soulful voice the radio, reminding them to be “merry and bright.”) And by far the greatest challenge facing WorldTeach volunteers will be staying optimistic during a season when the absence of family and friends is impossible to ignore.

Fortunately, most WorldTeach volunteers have embraced their new homes and communities with both arms. One volunteer from Ecuador, after a Thanksgiving dinner with her team members and host family, wrote: “It felt like home…the only thing missing was my real family.” While our spirited volunteers can find local substitutes for almost all the components of Christmas, there's no foreign replacement for family and friends!



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