Foreign students share in holiday

Every Thanksgiving, host families provide all the traditional goodies for international students.

Ed Swaray

For University graduate student Bhim Gurung of Nepal, a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and pies was an exciting experience.

Thanks to a program organized by the Minnesota International Center, 12 host families welcomed Gurung and 31 other international students to traditional Thanksgiving meals Thursday.

Gurung, who brought along his wife and 16-month-old son, said in addition to showing him American culture, the meal gave him a chance to share his culture with his hosts.

Gurung said American Thanksgiving reminded him of the Hindu holiday Dasai.

“Dasai is a national holiday in Nepal,” he said. “And we invite family and friends to eat special meal of mutton and sel rodi.”

Sel rodi is bread.

Carol Engebretson Byrne, executive director of Minnesota International Center, said the hosting program began about 50 years ago to educate international students about the essence of U.S. holidays. By inviting international students into U.S. homes, she said, hosts and guests can “break bread, share culture and become friends.”

“Something as simple as sharing a meal can promote greater awareness and understanding of other cultures and have profound effect on the relationship among people,” Engebretson Byrne said.

Since the program began, she said, thousands of international students have participated.

Sophia Geng, an American studies graduate student from China, said Thanksgiving reminded her of Chinese Spring Festival, when families eat traditional Chinese food such as dumplings, watch television and light fireworks at midnight. She and her husband, also a University graduate student, were among 17 guests at Linda Salway’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Salway, who is British, said she loves hosting international students because she wants them to have a good experience in Minnesota.

Affectionately called a “veteran host” by her colleagues at the Minnesota International Center, Salway has been as host since 1966.

Since then, she said, she has hosted visitors of all races, religions and cultural backgrounds.

Gurung’s host, Linda Lovett, said this was the sixth time she has hosted international students through the center. Lovett said she and her husband Mike have hosted students from Asia and Europe through other programs.

Lovett said her and her husband’s Christian faith and their desire to meet people from different countries fuel their willingness to host students.

“But by talking to people from different culture backgrounds, you will be surprised about how much we are all alike about family, about values and about what’s important to all of us,” Lovett said.

Engebretson Byrne said the center’s hosting program is also used for other holidays, such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Last year, families hosted 290 international students from 60 countries, Engebretson Byrne said. Currently, more than 4,500 international students from 130 countries are enrolled at the University, according to the International Students, and Scholar Services.