Thanksgiving break leaves some international students without a place to eat

Some international students say they scramble to find food and cook meals when dining halls close.

Liz Anderson

When the University of Minnesota closes for Thanksgiving later this week, many students will go home to eat a traditional holiday dinner with family and friends.

But that trip home isn’t an option for some students.

While residence halls remain open during the long weekend for students who choose to stay on campus, dining halls shut down Thursday through Saturday, leaving some international students worried about where they’ll get their meals.

Enoch Sun, a freshman from China, said he and his friends who are also international students are worried about what they’ll eat over break. He said the dining halls should remain open for them.

“For me, I think it’s unfair for international students. We don’t have a home here. We stay here and need a place to eat,” Enoch said. “I pay a lot of money for the meal plan. I need [dining halls] open during Thanksgiving break.”

In an email statement, University Dining Services said there aren’t enough students on campus during the break to keep the dining halls open.

Residence halls have kitchens, and students can also use their FlexDine dollars at on-campus retail locations, the statement read.

This fall, there are more than 2,800 international undergraduate students at the University.

While Thanksgiving is traditionally an American holiday, some students argue it’s unfair that the dining halls close down for those who don’t participate in the tradition.

“Not everyone celebrates this holiday,” said Keerthana Shankar, Asian language and literature senior, “so it’s like a meaningless break for us.”

Ronald Phuan, international finance and risk management junior, said he cooked a cultural meal with friends in Middlebrook Hall on Thanksgiving his freshman year.

“We buy what we know how to cook based on where we’re from,” Phuan said, “but freshman year was a little rough.”

To make international students feel a part of the American tradition, the International Buddy Program — a University support service that helps transition international students into the United States — hosted a Thanksgiving feast for students, faculty and family members on Sunday.

Although the feast wasn’t held on Thanksgiving Day, it offered international students a taste of turkey, stuffing and other traditional Thanksgiving foods. 

Harry Hoa Huynh, communications chair for the program, said many first-year international students don’t know about the holiday and feel lost during the break.

“The freshman student comes here and doesn’t know what to do, so that might be a big struggle for them,” Huynh said.

The College of Education and Human Development has also hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner for international students for the past seven years, said Serena Wright, CEHD events director.

More than 100 students, mostly international ones, came to the event on Monday evening to enjoy traditional Thanksgiving food with presentations about the holiday’s history from a Native American perspective, she said.

Wright and Huynh said while these events are helpful for international students, they agree some dining halls should still stay open during the break.

“Personally, I would have half [the] staff,” Wright said. “Instead of just shutting things down, you [can] have limited hours.”

But some international students said it’s understandable that dining halls close because employees would have to work over the holiday.

“I think it’s good that the University closes,” said Aduramo Lasode, an international student from Nigeria who plans to spend Thanksgiving with her friend’s family. “Leaving the resident halls open during this time would be a great waste to the University.”