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Celebrating gratitude during Thanksgiving weekend?

For many Americans, the Thanksgiving season is ingrained their family cultures. Americans celebrate the Harvest Festival with loved ones, turkey, church, and gratitude. Because the holiday appears only on the U.S. and Canadian calendars, for many international students Thanksgiving is a foreign concept.

“I thought [Thanksgiving] was just about sharing gratitude, but when I came here [to] the United States, [I realized] it’s about eating turkey,” said senior Lorilyn Tacio from the Phillipines.

Domestic students often travel home or to family and friends over the four-day weekend, leaving roughly eighty or so students on campus to celebrate the American holiday.

Some celebrate it with their host family, like Vietnamese senior Anh Vu. “For the past seven years I’ve spent my Thanksgiving with my host family, and they [are] really cute because I don’t eat potatoes or turkey. Instead they make me extra chicken on the side and sweet potatoes,” Vu said.

Other host families have made minor changes to their traditions to accommodate the international students. Tacio said that during her first Thanksgiving, her host family added rice as one of the options for the meal.

For some international students, their experience of Thanksgiving is that it is just like any other day. Senior Jocelyne Jam from Cameroon said, “My first [Thanksgiving] was an exciting time for me…. But I think after it, [Thanksgiving] was just another day that has mashed potato and turkey – that’s how it felt to me, I guess because I don’t have a family to celebrate with.”

Thanksgiving dinner accommodations at Principia usually result in a gathering where students assemble to cook and celebrate together as a student-body with some faculty/staff joining the dinner. “There isn’t much that Prin can do so I think at this point it’s up to [international students] to figure out how we’re going to make it memorable for ourselves,” Jam said.

“[Thanksgiving is] a community time,” Jam said. “You want to give thanks to other people; you want to talk about the good that happens to you. You don’t want to sit in your room alone and think about the good that happened to you, you want to share it with other people.”

Some Thanksgiving traditions that have been created at Principia range from silent prayer to hymn sings.

“We didn’t pray verbally. Before we started the meal every one of us held hands together and silently said what we are grateful for,” Lorolyn said. “It’s amazing to feel like each of us has that sense of gratitude that we don’t need to verbally say.”

Tacio said that wherever she is around for any Thanksgiving, she will always feel inclined to celebrate. “When it comes to the month of November, I would think it as being Thanksgiving month. It’s something to get excited about and be grateful for. It’s the idea of Thanksgiving that I would incorporate in my life. Gratitude.”