Int’l students experience Thanksgiving

Many students choose to celebrate at the homes of American friends.

Lindsay Guentzel

When University graduate student Emilena Rodriguez, who is from Costa Rica, studied at the University of North Dakota in 2002, she didn’t know much about Thanksgiving. Now a fan of the American holiday, she will spend Thursday celebrating with her American host family in St. Paul.

“We are having a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner,” she said.

While most international students can enjoy the break from school, Thanksgiving can be difficult for international students to celebrate because they might not have family or friends nearby, child psychology junior Julie Thao said.

As vice president of the Minnesota International Student Association, Thao said the organization didn’t plan a Thanksgiving celebration for international students because many of them make their own plans.

If they don’t go home with an American friend, many students use the break to try different restaurants and see movies, she said.

The Minnesota International Center, which is located south of Stadium Village, has a program which arranges for international students and scholars to spend Thanksgiving and December holidays with an American family, Carol Engebretson Byrne, the center’s president, said.

“This is a program that we have been running ever since our inception,” she said. “We’ve always worked very closely with the international students and scholars at the University of Minnesota.”

This Thanksgiving, the center’s members will be hosting international students from countries all over the world, including those from Morocco and Japan, Byrne said. The dinner-hosting program is optional but students who have done it in the past have enjoyed it, she said.

“When people sit together and share a meal, lots of special things happen in sharing culture,” she said. “This is such a fun, special program to do.”

Unmil Patel, a chemical engineering junior from India, said many international students who have American friends at the University will celebrate the holiday, but international students without that connection probably won’t.

This year, Patel will be eating a lot of food and watching football at an American friend’s home, he said. While this isn’t the first time he’s celebrated the holiday, he said he won’t be cooking any of the food this year.

“I don’t know how to make turkey,” he said.

Patel, who celebrates other U.S. holidays like the Fourth of July, said he has never felt pressure to celebrate American holidays.

Mathematics junior Ammanuel Selameab and his family moved to the United States from Ethiopia in 1990 and started celebrating Thanksgiving because it was a “nice tradition,” he said.

His first memories of Thanksgiving came from his elementary school, he said, where he colored turkeys and read stories about pilgrims.

Dr. Ellen Kennedy, the outreach coordinator for the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said she will be hosting Augustino Mayai, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” – a group of boys who were displaced from their homes during an ongoing war in Sudan – for Thanksgiving. She met Mayai at the University of Wisconsin, she said.

While Mayai’s visit isn’t facilitated through the Minnesota International Center, Kennedy said she has participated in its dinner-hosting program before.

“I’ve hosted many students for meals over holidays who I have not known previously,” Kennedy said. “It’s a wonderful way for people to connect.”