More than 100 turkeys and several hundred pounds of side dishes? Just another Turkey Day for some.

Thanksgiving in the United States revolves around family, friends, togetherness, and food. Every November, when campuses close and many students head home for break, educators around the country step in to make sure international students have a place to go as well.

Buckeye Banquet

At The Ohio State University, Thanksgiving Day is a big deal. Maureen Miller, director of communications at the Office of International Affairs, helps organize an annual meal that drew 1,600 guests in 2012. What started as a small gathering of graduate students more than two decades ago has grown into an event with two separate meal times, 120 turkeys, 430 pounds of corn and green beans, and 320 pounds of corn bread. "We have over 200 volunteers, and everyone has a role to fill. We have greeters, volunteers seating people, those that serve food, those running back and forth to the kitchens. It's an extremely busy couple of meals," says Miller.

The dinner has become a haven for Buckeyes who often have no Thanksgiving traditions of their own or no family nearby, and Miller says that the majority of the attendees are international students, scholars, and their families. "I know that international students find it to be an extremely important event to them. We do large family-style tables so you can meet people from different countries and talk about their cultures. It's just a huge sense of community."

Miller is also proud that the event's last four cochairs have been international students.

"They all attended the event one year, and they become so enamored that they wanted to take on a larger leadership role. Each of the cochairs gets to stand up on stage and talk about what Thanksgiving means to them. They all talked about how it is humbling that that the university and community take the time and effort to put on such an event of this size."

Sense of Community

The Asian Student Association helped organize the first Thanksgiving meal for international students at Northern Virginia Community College in 2008. Pat Gordon, former student activities coordinator, became involved after one student-leader sent invitations to some very special guests. "Once I learned that he was inviting the provost, dean of students, division chairs, and the campus police lieutenant, I decided I should step in and assist," says Gordon.

"The most rewarding aspect of the Thanksgiving dinner event was the sense of community that was evident throughout the event. Some international students had been in country for two to three years and had never attended an American Thanksgiving dinner."

Every meal has included a presentation on the origins of Thanksgiving and the significance of the present-day holiday before the guests sample typical foods. "[Students] found the event to be very enjoyable and appreciated the fact that an event had been created to share an American tradition with them. By the end of the meal, strangers at each table were no longer strangers."

Homemade

International students at Pittsburg State in Kansas learn quickly about the yearly feast hosted by Cathy Lee Arcuino and her boyfriend, Bill Daneke. Arcuino, director of international programs and services, and Daneke have turned his motorcycle repair shop into a Thanksgiving banquet hall for students, family, and friends since 2009.

Arcuino was inspired to do something for her students after spending nearly 10 years living abroad. "There were many holidays where I didn't have family and friends. Several local people in the countries that I lived in would take me in, and I promised myself that when there was a holiday, my house would be the house where people go," says Arcuino.

Nearly 60 people attended the first event, and that number has grown to more than 140 in recent years. "Students who have already come know that the invitation is open, and they also don't want anyone to be alone. They genuinely want to be a part of it and include other people because they remember what it was like to be alone."

Arcuino and Daneke contribute to their "Thanksgiving Jar" year-round, and thanks to donations and pies from members of the community, they are able to provide international students with an authentic holiday meal. "A lot of the students are very touched that we do something to make them feel welcomed."

Helping Hands

Purdue University's international volunteer program, Boiler Out, has offered students the opportunity to help out at a community Thanksgiving meal for several years. This year, students will go in two shifts to the Hanna Community Center in Lafayette, Indiana, to set up and serve a meal to local families in need. Students serving the meal will also have the chance to join the families at the table.

"This particular population probably has not had as much exposure to our international students, so I am hoping that it opens another door of contact," says Nancy Montague, immigration counselor and cocoordinator for international student engagement. "It's great getting the students out into the community to engage with our culture and community. It enhances their time here."

Montague and her colleague Kathryn Burden, immigration counselor in the Office of International Students and Scholars, organize several Boiler Out volunteer opportunities every month, and the Thanksgiving meal is one of the most meaningful. "Our students learn about American culture and the value of volunteering. Our hope is that they take our spirit of volunteerism to their country."

There are many more ways to share Thanksgiving with international students. How do you include international students at your school or in your community?

 
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