I Won't Be Home for Christmas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 26, 2008
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Throughout my life, my family has treated Christmas as a wonderful and important holiday. We did all the normal things and had some amazing traditions. It was family time, and I took it for granted that I'd always have a family Christmas.

On August 18, 2008, I left for the most important adventure of my life thus far. I was on a plane for nearly an entire day, traveling through many time zones. I arrived at my destination tired and travel-worn, but happy. I was finally in Taiwan, my home for the next ten months.

Four months later, the holidays were fast approaching, and I had become a completely different person. I was starting to understand my new language, and I had a wonderful host family who loved me like a daughter. It was hard to tell that it was mid-December considering the weather. Coming from snow-covered Michigan, I had always experienced the clichéd “white Christmas.” And although the weather in Taiwan was constantly switching from hot to cold, it never snowed. So it took me by surprise when I looked at my calendar and saw that Christmas was just three days away.

Suddenly I was in a panic, considering I still had to buy gifts for my host family, my exchange-student friends, and my family back home. My school was in a fluster too, preparing for the caroling and tree-decorating competitions. These events were very important to my classmates, and they took winning seriously. When I asked, “What do you do for Christmas here?” they looked at me incredulously and pointed to the tree they were decorating. That was the only answer I received. I couldn't believe that this was how they celebrated their holiday ­season: a competition.

I guess that was my first clue that Christmas would be different. They'd warned us before we left that we'd be the most depressed during this time, but no one believed this. One by one, my exchange-student friends became sad and wistful for home. I was astounded that this year my Christmas would happen without family and our happy home. I began to fall into the same slump that plagued my friends.

On Christmas Eve, we had school until ten in the morning. The competitions were over, and my team had earned second place in both. My classmates were becoming as depressed as I felt, but for a completely different reason.

It was a blessing to leave school so early, and on my way to the bus I was invited to lunch with a few peers. I accepted, along with some exchange students. It was too sad to go home alone on Christmas Eve.

These students were my closest friends, and we made an interesting group: one extroverted Mexican, who was an exchange student and my best friend; one Korean, a religious guy who was a lot of fun once you got to know him; three Taiwanese students who weren't afraid of us, even though we were foreign; and me, brown curly hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. I was as different as one could be in an Asian country.

The Korean boy led us to another campus building. He grinned and opened the door, releasing the scent of Christmas cookies. I nearly cried at that second, feeling drawn back to my life in America. He ushered us in, and we were greeted by the many American teachers who taught English at our school. I realized that they probably longed for home right now, just as I did.

It wasn't the same as home, but it definitely cheered me up. We baked sugar cookies and sang along to carols played on the piano. After a few hours, the teachers had to go teach the younger ­students, so we took the bus downtown and walked around shopping for a few hours. After dinner, I headed to my house for a small party with my friend Aaron. My family greeted me at the door with big smiles and a package, saying “Merry Christmas” in Chinese.It was from America, addressed to me. Excited, I quickly led Aaron upstairs.

As I unwrapped my Christmas gift, tears started streaming down my face. It wasn't the most expensive or biggest present I had ever gotten. But it was by far the most thoughtful gift I could have received. Inside was a box of macaroni and cheese, a tiny Christmas tree, some candles, and a card. But what really made me cry was the tiny tin of mints that read, “You can do it.”

In retrospect, that Christmas may have been the best of my life. I was with my best friend, so close we could be family. We ate macaroni and cheese and swapped stories of the holidays with our families in our respective countries. And even though I got only one present, it was the best one ever.

In addition to the package, I received many well wishes from my family over the Internet. Being separated didn't make my family fall apart but instead pulled us together. This experience made me see that even if I am thousands of miles away, I can still be a part of the lives of people all over the world. When I go home in seven months, I will be able to say that I'm a bigger person, and that I love my ­family more than ever.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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grandmasue said...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 7:03 pm
You are an amazing person.....
How brave to have your Taiwan adventure...and how smart to learn all you did.
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