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Program coordinator Brooke Stobbe expands student holiday cultural awareness

Julia Fikse | The Feather Online

The international students participated in a gift exchange after they finished their meal.

In America, once the Christmas season rolls around, people all over the country begin to prepare for the upcoming holiday. At Fresno Christian, when students study abroad in America, they face many challenges.

One that many students experience comes during an unfamiliar holiday to them. Some students have never even celebrated Christmas before at home.

International program coordinator Brooke Stobbe set out to give the students a party that they can call their own. Since most international students either celebrate Christmas differently or not at all, Stobbe wanted to immerse them in this form of American culture.

The goal for this party was to display to the international students why Americans celebrate this holiday so much. Stobbe wanted to show them why Americans go the extra mile for this holiday. She also wants to explain why people act differently during the month of December compared to the rest of the year.

“They get to understand the whole holiday spirit and the excitement that comes around that. You know, the warmth, the memories and starting to experience that is really important,” Stobbe said. “They’re coming from cultures that don’t celebrate Christmas. So it’s just sort of a different holiday experience, it’s not that warmth, the family, the fireplace, the cozy, the gift exchange. Understanding that part of our culture too is really important the way we celebrate our holidays, that we celebrate and recognize religion.”

During the party, the students were provided with meals from the Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant. While they ate, Christmas music hummed in the background amid the sounds of conversation. In addition to eating together, the students brought gifts to exchange and took pictures in a photo booth provided.

Stobbe talks about why she believes it’s important for the international students to understand Christmas.

While most families in foreign countries don’t see Christmas as a prevalent holiday, one student still celebrated back home with his family. Levi Sumbela, ‘19, celebrates with his family every year though not as extravagantly as Americans choose to. Sumbela recalls his memories with his family during Christmas with great fondness.

“I think it was in 2014, that was before my great grandmother died, so we were all there,” Sumbela said. “My great grandma and even my uncles who were in other countries, we all met in 2014 and we celebrated together, which was really good. My family was different so we kind of had the Christmas party, but here in America it’s more like you’re celebrating with the whole city, the whole country, it’s wonderful.”

Even though Christmas doesn’t hold as much stature around the world as in America, sophomore Frank Zhang recalls past celebrations in China. One of the main ways he partook in the festivity was putting up a Christmas tree. Zhang enjoyed exchanging gifts back home and is excited for the chance to get to go back home. He plans to visit his family in China over the extended Christmas break.

“Christmas, we actually celebrate a little but we don’t do stuff,” Zhang said. “We just have Christmas trees at home and maybe discounts in the store. We have exchanged gifts between friends in the past. This year, I will go back to China and stay with my family for the break.”

Julia Fikse | The Feather Online

In her second year, Brooke Stobbe has started to connect with the students more than in her first year.

Bonnie Yang believes that celebrating Christmas with a party helps all of the international students. This allows them to understand what Christmas means in the United States a little bit better. In addition to that, she enjoys how all Americans feel like family during this time of year.

“The party is really nice, it’s really good,” Yang said. “It can make more international students understand what Christmas looks like and everybody gets to bring a gift. We’re doing an exchange and everything is really good. Here, people are all family and I really like it. I really enjoy Christmas in America.”

With the final week of the semester coming to an end, Christmas celebrations have occurred on a frequent basis. The factor that separates this party from all others comes in the culture barrier. While most Americans have grown up learning about Christmas, many of these international students lack exposure to it. Now, thanks to the help of Stobbe, most of the international students possess a new knowledge on one of America’s most popular holidays.

For more articles read Superintendent Jeremy Brown strives to advance FC campus and College Corner: Juniors utilize your Christmas break.

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