Maya Lewis, Staff Writer
George Washington instituted the American holiday of Thanksgiving as a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”
After the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving may be the most quintessentially American holiday—but that does not mean that international students do not have their own opinions about it.
International students who come from countries that do not celebrate Thanksgiving similarly to Americans have a unique view of the celebration of Thanksgiving in America; their thoughts and experiences shed light on the cultural meaning of the American holiday.
Many international students celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time since coming to America. Nina Orlandi, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said, “I never celebrated [Thanksgiving] back home. I went to an American school so the younger grades drew pictures of turkeys and decorated our cafeteria, but there was not much celebration beyond that.”
Other students had celebrated Thanksgiving before, but agreed that it was different than how they experienced it in America. Jianna Park, a Korean international student, visited relatives in Wisconsin over Thanksgiving break. She said that Chuseok, a Korean holiday celebrated in September, could be compared to Thanksgiving, but the American holiday was much “more intense.” She said that the whole mood surrounding American Thanksgiving was a new experience, and she particularly emphasized the feeling of warmth that surrounded the holiday.
Emily Koh from Seoul, Korea, also celebrates Chuseok with her family: “It’s a day when we all gather at a relative’s house and basically spend some quality time together enjoying each others’ company and catching up on the recent happenings among the different families. It’s also a time when we pay respects to our ancestors by visiting and tidying up graves.”
Ellen Gleadow, hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, remarked that in Canada, the celebration was fairly similar, but did not include the story of the Pilgrims.
In the spirit of warmth and hospitality, many professors extended their homes to students who opted to stay on campus over Thanksgiving break. Sisters Cristina and Carol Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, along with a group of other students, were invited to dinner at the house of one of their business professors. Carol Gutierrez added, “I love how this holiday emphasizes hospitality.”
The general consensus among international students was that Thanksgiving’s main purpose, to give thanks, makes it a worthwhile holiday and tradition.
“The idea of having a day a year just to give thanks is really a lovely one!” said Ena Solorzano, a student from El Salvador.
Maggie Guzman, from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, likewise noted: “If I ever have the opportunity to [celebrate Thanksgiving back at home], I would love to!”
When asked about what they perceived to be the meaning of Thanksgiving, many students spoke of the importance of taking time off to reflect and spend time with family. According to Solorzano, “the important part of Thanksgiving is that you get to take a break for a little while and just spend some time with your family and loved ones.”
Guzman also commented on the need to take a rest from school and work. The purpose of Thanksgiving, she said, “is to take some time off our busy lives and appreciate our family, friends…etc.”
The students did not fail to mention a large part of this American holiday: the food. Park said that although her relatives served rice and Korean- style beef along with more traditional Thanksgiving foods, she especially enjoyed watching them carve the turkey. She also loved the pumpkin pie. Junior Elaine Lee, also from South Korea, recalled that her family would make rice cakes called Song-pyeon for Chuseok.
Perhaps standard Thanksgiving food was not to everybody’s taste—Cristina Gutierrez said that she would like to continue to celebrate Thanksgiving, but that she might not cook all the traditional food in the future.
The broader purpose of Thanksgiving, though, seemed to resonate deeply with international students: “Who can say no to quality time with family and a good meal?” asked Guzman.
Maya Lewis is a freshman studying biology and music. If you know of a quicker way to get from Jordan to Crowley, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.