International student Nick Keller is swapping the skis for a surfboard this Christmas as Covid-19 dashes the German teenager's hopes of going home.
Keller joins a large number of international students whose plans to stay in Rotorua short-term have now been upgraded as border restrictions bite.
With this in mind, Destination Rotorua and the Rotorua Lakes Council put on a Christmas Party for those affected to remind them how welcome they are in the city.
Many of the students, who hailed from places such as China, Chile, Russia, Sri Lanka, India and even as far as Nigeria, would have had plans to return home for Christmas with their families.
The party was held at the Rotorua Lakes Council tonight with about 120 students, host families and international city leaders turning out for the event.
Keller and his host parents, Peter and Lynn Castelli, were among the group.
Keller told the Rotorua Daily Post he had planned to stay in New Zealand for only six months but as Covid-19 hit, discussions began with his family about staying on.
"Why would I go back to a country that is filled with Covid-19 when I can stay in a place as safe as here?"
He said they had decided the 15-year-old would stay for two more years until he graduated from Western Heights High School.
Keller had been awarded a mountain bike scholarship with the school and said biking had been the main reason he had chosen the city in the first place.
"I really love it here. I've always loved mountain biking and hope to compete in Crankworx for the second time next year."
He said he saw his host parents as his "second family" and they were happy to keep him on.
"Christmas will be strange. All I've ever known is a white Christmas skiing in Austria. Looks like I'll be getting out the surfboard this year instead."
He said he did miss his family but they were always just a call away, which was comforting.
Long-time Rotorua residents Peter and Lynn Castelli have been hosting students for six years.
Lynn said they saw Keller "like a son" and were happy to know he would be staying with them long-term.
Many would have taken on new students next year anyway so having one stay on was not a big deal, she said.
International students gave them a "new perspective of different cultures and countries" and was a "rewarding" thing to do, she said.
The guests, led by Rotorua Lakes' councillor and cultural ambassador Trevor Maxwell, were welcomed into the chambers by a pohiri-style performance.
Rotorua's youngest councillor, Fisher Wang, was first to take the stage, telling the crowd he appreciated how tough it would be for many to be cut off from their families but he hoped they would feel Rotorua's "warmth and kindness" in such a hard time.
"2021 can only be better."
Wang said there were more than 12,000 people in Rotorua who made the multicultural community and this was represented by the "most diverse council in the country".
Most of the international students in the room had been in the city for close to a year, with Destination Rotorua's Cynthia Fang saying she hoped they would see their time in Rotorua as one of their "brightest chapters" in life.
Another student, Nemani Smith from Fiji, was entering his brightest chapter after being awarded a scholarship to play rugby in Japan next year.
The 18-year-old Rotorua Boys' High School student had moved to New Zealand in November last year on a rugby scholarship.
He said when Covid-19 hit he had thought about going home but decided it would be the wrong decision for his future in the sport.
"If I had left, I wouldn't be able to come back."
He will leave for Japan next year after what he says has been an amazing time in Rotorua.
"I do really miss my family, but this is the best thing for me now."
Multicultural Society president Margriet Theron said making international students feel welcome was more important than ever right now as many had "no idea when they will see home again".
Many had offered to volunteer with the society over summer, which Theron said was vital in learning more about the work environment here in New Zealand.
The society had begun planning a Latin Festival, a Chinese New Year celebration, and Waitangi commemorations for the new year, she said.
Rotorua was currently home to nearly 1300 international students.