(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
For Henrik Hardon, of Denmark, and Jonas Lungstrass, of Germany, Christmas in America shares many similarities to those they've experienced growing up in their home countries.
Djura Postma, of the Netherlands, and Georgia Golledge, of Australia, suggest the international holiday bares only a slight resemblance to the event they participate in back home.
For each student, it's the first time they've been away from family and loved ones at Christmas.
"I haven't been homesick at all during my stay. But I'm starting to feel it closer to Christmas time. You want to be with your family," Hardon said, noting he had never been away from his family for more than five days prior to departing for America.
The three other foreign exchange students, attending Spencer High School, shared the same feeling.
Hardon said Christmas in Denmark is very much like the holiday celebrated by American youth.
"The only big difference is people here decorate outside. In Denmark, most of the people just decorate inside," Hardon said.
He noted the Christmas programming, advertising and other aspects are big in his country as well.
Lungstrass said Germany is the same.
"It's basically like Henrik described. Everything happens on the 24th. We go to church, have presents and food. It all happens that night."
"Nothing happens on the 25th or 26th. It's all done on the 24th," Hardon stressed.
Christmas in the Netherlands is a bit different.
"Most families in the Netherlands don't celebrate Christmas with presents. We have another holiday at the beginning of December for that called Sinterklaas," Postma shared.
"There's a character that looks like Santa Claus, but it's not tied to Christmas. Children believe he is real. The good kids get toys. Bad kids get a bag of salt," she explained.
And the really bad kids?
"He's going to take them away in his bag," Postma laughed. "Why do you think I'm here?"
To her knowledge, no child has even been abducted by the Santa Claus look-alike.
She continued, "We do have a Christmas tree, but we don't really decorate the house. It's mostly about being with family and having dinner together."
Golledge cited the many differences starting with the temperature.
"It's summer," the Sydney, Australia native said. "Christmas time is so hot, between 90 and 110 degrees. We don't know about 'white Christmas.' I'm so excited to experience it."
Despite missing the special time with their families, all four are looking forward to the opportunity to share in the American traditions.
"I'm going to have many Christmases in Germany. I'm just enjoying having Christmas in America," Lungstrass admitted.
"I miss home. I hope they're having a Merry Christmas. But I love my host family here. They're so hospitable. It feels like I'm celebrating with my family anyway," Golledge said.
While ham, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pie are part of traditional meals in America, the dinner is a bit different across the globe.
"Rice pudding, pork roast or duck," Hardon said.
Lungstrass said his meals are similar to those enjoyed by Hardon, featuring duck and mousse au chocolat for dessert.
"I'm the only vegetarian in my family," Postma said. "So I usually get a different meal."
She said the rest of her family generally enjoys a "more expensive" meat and ice cream novelties shaped into snowmen by her mother.
Golledge and her mother share a seafood meal, consisting of prawns and oysters, topped off with Pavlova, a meringue-based dessert.
"It's really to keep a cool lunch. It's so hot," she stressed again, before re-telling the best Christmas she's ever had. "We went to our friend's house and played an afternoon game of cricket."
Unlike the other three, Golledge's final day as a Spencer student was Friday. She will be meeting her mother in New York when she leaves Spencer on Jan. 2, 2013.
"I'm so close to seeing my family, so it makes Christmas a little easier. It will be a very nice Christmas," she explained.
Golledge took some time to share some thoughts on her visit to the United States and Spencer.
"When I found out I was coming to the Midwest, the things I heard were people would be very hospitable and friendly," Golledge said. "It's still been a shock at how friendly everyone is. It was so easy to make friends. It's awesome."
She continued, "School is different. Boys and girls going to school together is completely weird, but it's good. I really enjoyed it. And the school spirit is amazing."
While at Spencer High School, Golledge was able to be a part of the fall musical, "Grease," and attended many of the extracurricular events. She also discovered a new love.
"There's not any seafood around here. I hadn't ever had a hamburger until I came here. Gwen (Kardell). They're available but I had never had one. Omigosh, now it's my favorite."
Golledge is hoping to be able to come back and visit, and hopes that some of the friends she made will want to come see her in Australia some day.
She and her mother will remain in New York until Jan. 13, 2013, before returning to Sydney. On the agenda: visit museums, see some sites and spend time at the Feminist Art Museum.
"My favorite art work is there. I have to see it," Golledge said.
The other three exchange students will remain for the remainder of the school year.
Postma is excited because she's already received her Sinterklaas gifts.
"Now I get it two times with my host family," she said.
Postma is living with the Kirk and Tina Studer family. Hardon resides with the Keith and and Brenda Miller family. Lungstrass stays with the Richard and Deanna McCord family. Golledge will leave the Bruce and Gwen Kardell family shortly after the first of the year.
A fifth foreign exchange student at Spencer High School was unable to be a part of the discussion.