If you visit the Thompsons’ house on Christmas Day, you will find a household packed with kids. Two of them are visitors — exchange students from Italy and Germany studying this year at Nash Central High School.
Viola Graziani and Jacob Buchholz are just two of 16 students from nine different countries in foreign exchange programs in Nash County Schools this year.
Graziani is a senior at Nash Central High School, visiting from Italy. It is her first Christmas in the United States.
“In America, everything is bigger. Everything. Christmas here is way more,” she said.
Graziani said her family celebrates Christmas back home, but there are many differences in the United States.
“This morning we woke up at 5:30 to open the presents from Santa Claus. I’ve never done that but I was very excited,” she said.
Jacob Buchholz is a senior visiting from Germany.
“In Germany, we get our presents on Christmas Eve,” he said. “I would say that is a big difference.”
He likes Nash County for the size.
“It is kind of the perfect place to be for an exchange year, because the school is not too big. I got to play in the varsity football team. Kind of everybody knows me in the school, and I know everybody,” Buchholz said.
Heather Thompson has welcomed foreign exchange students into her home since 2006. She not only hosts students but also serves as a local coordinator for the national organization CIEE.
“In their applications, every one of them puts ‘The thing I am looking the most forward to is Christmas.’ To actually live that with the students is so much fun,” Thompson said.
Some students might think Rocky Mount is an unlikely landing spot, but Thompson said there has been interest in North Carolina.
“In my area, I have seven students who actually wanted to come to North Carolina for an exchange year,” she said.
Thompson said she learns just as much from the students as they do from her. She said they share traditions back and forth on the holiday.
Buchholz said living with the Thompsons has been an unforgettable experience.
“It is definitely a great opportunity to exchange cultures and to be able to see what is going on in the world,” he said.
Thompson said she is already looking for host families for the upcoming year.