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International Students and Thanksgiving: A Chance to Connect

A cooked turkey sits on a table next to a pumpkin pie and other side dishes.
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For international students at US colleges, Thanksgiving can feel lonely as the campus empties out and most other students go home for the holiday. A number of campuses and communities, however, have begun keeping their doors open to students far from home, both domestic and international, and providing activities and a Thanksgiving feast for those who remain on campus. Today, we’ll highlight some of the gatherings happening this week across the country.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers international students an opportunity to take part in both a Thanksgiving feast and Black Friday shopping excursion, allowing them to learn about the holiday and American culture, and to spend time with other students who are far from home. The festivities actually began on November 9th this year with a campus-wide Thanksgiving dinner served in the dining halls. Then on Thanksgiving, around 80 to 100 students come together to eat “items like turkey, gravy, dinner rolls and desserts,” and other activities such as “making crafts and writing appreciation notes” to their loved ones. After dinner, the students can opt to go to the nearby outlet mall for Black Friday shopping, another decidedly American tradition.

The community of La Crosse, Wisconsin, brings together international students from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Viterbo University at a local church for the Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner on the Tuesday before the holiday. The event is organized by the local La Crosse Friends of International Students (LFIS) organization, which “was formed to encourage interactions between foreign students and community members, helping provide a smooth transition and positive experience for those new to the U.S.” The students are presented with a talk on the origins of Thanksgiving, as well as an opportunity to celebrate as a community not just of university students but La Crosse residents.

One professor at Northeastern University in Boston hosts international students for Thanksgiving at his home. He was inspired by his own experiences of Thanksgiving as an international student himself: originally from Iran, Nasser Fard studied at the University of Arizona and first experienced Thanksgiving with his professors there. He “is one of more than two-dozen faculty and staff who have already committed to hosting international students for Thanksgiving.” Another professor, Patricia Goodman, plans to have students to take part in traditions such as watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and having each guest name one thing they’re thankful for.

The University of Southern Mississippi hosts its own on-campus food pantry for students and staff in need of basic necessities. This year, the Eagle’s Nest Food Pantry hosted Thanksgiving dinner on November 20th, as both a way to bring together the students who remained on campus over the holiday week, as well as a chance to provide a free meal for those who may be unable to afford it otherwise.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a unique way to bring together a diverse community for an American experience unlike many others: it offers a chance to learn a little about American history, eat American dishes, and spend time connecting with friends, family, neighbors, and peers. By hearing what each person is thankful for and talking about each other’s family and cultural traditions, one can learn more about the community around them, and teach others a little bit about themselves as well. What does your community do for students and residents on Thanksgiving? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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