Maiju Leppajarvi comes from a city in Finland that is much larger than Corry, but she’s adjusting to life in a smaller town.
“I like it,” Maiju said about Corry. “When I came to Corry, my city in Finland is bigger, but I got used to it.”
Maiju’s home town is Tampere, in southern Finland, population about 209,000.
Maiju said it’s “weird” that there is no public transportation in Corry, and the schools are different.
“In Finland, some don’t go to high school, they go to a vocational school,” Maiju said. “Here, everyone goes to high school.”
In Finland, students can attend different high schools, like a language high school or a science high school.
Maiju is one of four foreign exchange students at Corry Area High School this year. Her host family is Clarence and Mildred Redrup.
Lu Guanyu of China and Hyerin Yoo of South Korea are spending the school year in Corry, too. Their host family is John and Barb Kornikoski.
And Thea Weibel is from Denmark. Her host family is Pastor David and Christina Ewing.
The four students are looking forward to spending Christmas in Corry, different customs and all.
In Denmark and Finland, Thea and Maiju celebrate Christmas on Dec. 24.
Thea said it is customary in Denmark to have a big dinner as part of the Christmas celebration.
“The whole family is there,” Thea said.
The highlight of dinner is the special dessert, Thea said.
“We put an almond in the dessert,” Thea said. “The whole family eats it, and the one who gets the whole almond gets a present.”
The preset could be something like a movie or fine chocolate.
Maiju said her family goes to church on Christmas Eve and has a traditional dinner that usually includes ham, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rye bread.
And the treat is giogi, a red wine with almonds and raisins.
But before dinner, they do something most Americans don’t do.
“We go to a sauna before Christmas dinner,” Maiju said.
Lu said that, in China, Christmas isn’t celebrated to the extent it is in America.
“We don’t really have Christmas,” Lu said. “We give presents. If your kids have behaved very good, the parents usually give gifts.”
Christmas, to Americans, is a religious holiday, but the Chinese practice a different culture.
“Most Chinese don’t believe in God,” Lu said. “We have our own culture. Most Chinese don’t know who Jesus is.”
Lu said people have more freedom in the United States than they do in China.
“You can get all kinds of information you need,” Lu said.
He said, for example, people are not permitted to have a Facebook account in China, but there is a similar social networking site.
“We have our own version of Facebook,” Lu said.
In South Korea, Christmas is similar to ours, but different in other ways, Hyerin said.
“We usually meet our whole family and go out to eat a big dinner at a good restaurant,” Hyerin said.
They also celebrate by listening to Christmas carols and watching celebrations on TV.
“We give gifts, but not like in the United States,” Hyerin said. “We get just what we need. Sometimes money. Usually teens want money and not gifts.”
Hyerin said in South Korea, people also go to a spa after dinner.
Thea, 16, has an older brother in Denmark. She is the first foreign exchange student the Ewings have hosted.
And they’re glad they have Thea this year.
“She’s a sweet girl,” Christina Ewing said. “She’s great to have around.”
Christina Ewing said Thea is hoping for a white Christmas this year.
And Thea will share a Danish tradition with the Ewings.
“We’re looking forward to dancing around the Christmas tree,” Christina Ewing said.
The Kornikoskis have hosted several foreign exchange students, but this is the first time they’ve hosted one Asian student, let alone two.