Every year, the Belfast Rotary Club — like thousands of other Rotary clubs around the world — sponsors local high school students for year-long exchanges in other countries. This year, the Belfast Rotary group sent four students abroad, three to European countries and one to South America.

These students left home in the summer of 2011 and will be returning in June and July of this year. Each month, the students provide updates on their experiences; these updates are from early January, and were shared with VillageSoup by the Belfast Rotary Club.

Luckily for me my host mom is Catholic, so I had the opportunity to partake in a traditional Catholic Christmas with my host family. In the days leading up to Katolički Božić (Catholic Christmas), my host brother dragged the fake family tree out of the basement of our apartment building. As I waited in the living room with my host mom, she explained to me that it was the most beautiful tree that China had ever produced!

When my eyes finally caught a glimpse of this magnificent tree, I realized how right she was. Its metal trunk, foldable branches and plastic pine needles made me die with excitement. Christmas had arrived. We decorated the tree with red, flashing lights, and I was again reminded of my love for this season.

On Christmas Eve, my (host) brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. gathered at my grandmother’s house to devour a great feast! I love these get-togethers for many reasons. Yes, I love seeing family and friends, having epic talks about everything under the sun; however, in all honesty, it’s all about the food.

There is this one dish here, called sarma. It’s seasoned, and ground meat wrapped in cooked cabbage leaves. Like a lot of things here, at first my taste buds completely rejected it. Now my addiction is unquenchable. That night my stomach could have exploded, I could barely climb the stairs to my apartment. Balkan people know how to eat!

Christmas was a lazy day with the family. We ate lots of leftovers, and did lots of nothing. Christmas presents, as we know them, do not exist in Bosnia. Communism crushed all religious holidays (there were large fines that had to be paid if you were caught celebrating), but the people still wanted to give gifts. They chose to do this on New Year’s Eve instead.

What was weird for me was going back to school the day after Christmas. The city where I am staying is 93 percent Serbian, and therefore most people identify with the Serbian Orthodox religion. This means that my holiday break began Friday, with Serbian Christmas on Jan. 7, and the New Year on Jan. 14.

International New Year, however, is celebrated to an extreme here. During the month of December, firecrackers (and their explosive sound) become commonplace on the streets. Even walking to school at 7 o’clock in the morning, I would hear at least three go off. Sometimes people would light them in the school entryway when all the students were leaving. Albeit dangerous, the looks on the victims’ faces was priceless.

On New Year’s Eve, the sounds heard when walking down the street would make one think the war had started again. Screaming, explosions, the whole bit. After the excitement of fireworks has gone down, people retreated back to clubs, bars, or houses for parties that last until 11 a.m. A great night was had by all.

Well folks, I hope you had as great of a holiday season as I am having. I hope all is well and I’ll see you sometime this year!

Nik Frazee is a 2011 graduate of Searsport District High School, and is living in Bosnia for the year.