Twenty-four students and four teachers from Hong Kong spent Chinese New Year, Jan. 23, in Hilliard.

Twenty-four students and four teachers from Hong Kong spent Chinese New Year, Jan. 23, in Hilliard.

"We've been told that the Chinese New Year is their biggest celebration of the whole year, and it would be similar to our students being gone for Christmas," said Shelli Miller, Hoffman Trails Elementary. "On one hand, families didn't want to send kids and be away from them for the New Year, but also it's a time that they're off from school, so they're not missing instruction to come be with us."

The 12 elementary students and two teachers arrived on Jan. 19, and the 12 high school students and other two teachers on Jan. 21. Several students ate a Chinese New Year's Eve meal at Windchimes Chinese Restaurant in Dublin.

"The owner came out and greeted them and they had a dragon festival," Miller said. This is the year of the dragon, according to the Chinese calendar. "A dragon came out, and they were to eat cabbage to keep the dragon away for the new year of hope and prosperity and the celebration of spring."

In addition, all of the host families gave the students red envelopes containing American coins as a sign of good luck.

"I'm sure it's been hard for many of the kids to be away, but many of them have said they will celebrate on Feb. 4, when they go back home," Miller said.

Their departure is hard, Miller said.

"This year I've already had parents say to me that (last year's) host families prepared them for how close you bond to these kids during the 11-day period," she said. "We're honored that they're here. Our host families repeatedly talk about what a great experience it is. The students come here to learn, but we're actually finding we gain just as much learning by having them with us."

This is the second year in a row that students and teachers from Hong Kong have visited Hilliard.

The Hong Kong students went out a lot while they were in Hilliard. In addition to shadowing the host family's children at Hoffman Trail and Alton Darby elementary schools and Hilliard Bradley High School (and giving presentations or teaching a class), they went bowling, played putt-putt golf, rode horses and made T-shirts. They visited the fire station, the Anthony-Thomas candy factory and Ohio State University, went to pizza parties and the movies, watched basketball games and attended a farewell dinner. Several local businesses offered coupons or donated their services to help the district and host families out.

Assistant Superintendent Leslie McNaughton said her family hosted a student last year.

"We still keep in touch with our student, and it enriched us as a family," McNaughton said. "That's what I hear from all the students, families and teachers in all the buildings about what an incredible experience it is.

"With a rapidly changing world, we really are very committed to engaging our students in those kinds of experiences."