From ice skating on Christmas Eve to making gingerbread houses, everybody has their personal tradition they hold dear. To Peggy Hanlin, sharing her family tradition is one of her most cherished memories as she opens her arms to foreign exchange students each year.
Starting in 2007, Hanlin did not know her decision would bring so many memories and lessons into her home. Inspired by another couple in a dance class, Hanlin and her husband, Curt, decided it would be a fun experience to have a foreign exchange student.
Having children out of the house and raising families of their own, they stepped out of their comfort zone to find something that would soon become anything but familiar. Their first student, Dominique, was from Hungary, and she was nothing short of their expectations. From then on, the Hanlin’s not only continued to host students but they doubled them, taking in two each year.
A tradition started with Dominique, as the Hanlin’s hosted years of girls. Breaking that tradition this year, the couple took in two boys, Oliver Kuhn from Germany and Juan Lopez from Spain.
From moving to small-town Elgin to sharing Christmas traditions, the Hanlin family gets to see the wide-eyes of several students as they adjust to a different way of living. Peggy explained that the first step of transitioning can be the hardest for most of them but before you know it, Elgin becomes their second home.
Peggy looks forward to sharing her Christmas tradition with Kuhn and Lopez this year, with the gathering of her big family. Six families coming together can be overwhelming for the students, but the families take each in like they were their own. From a delicious meal to gift giving, each branch of the Hanlin family take the students in like they were their own.
Comparing Christmases, Kuhn and Lopez said that their are not huge differences in their celebrations. But little changes have stood out to them.
“I’m excited but it’s different because like the 24th is a bigger deal in Germany than it is here. Still Christmas, but the 24th we have the big Christmas dinner and we go to church. Here, it is mostly the 25th,” said Kuhn. “Usually, Santa Claus in Germany is just Christmas man. He doesn’t really have a name. People know him as Santa Claus because of TV shows and stuff like that.”
Looking forward to Christmas and the rest of their experience, the two boys have cherished their new family and everything they have done. As the Christmas season rolls around, the Hanlin family looks forward to extending their family tradition.
“They are kind of overwhelmed with all of the people that come. But, it’s a lot of fun. It’s experience that everyone should try... At least once.”