Meal Match program allows international students to experience Thanksgiving

Lorna Sundberg International Center pairs international students with Charlottesville families

Through its Thanksgiving Meal Match program, the Lorna Sundberg International Center offers international students who cannot make the trip home an opportunity to experience Thanksgiving with a Charlottesville family.

Thanksgiving Meal Match has been a University tradition since 1983, said International Center Program Coordinator Quynh Nguyen.

“If you’ve ever been at U.Va. over Thanksgiving break, [you know] it’s very lonely,” Nguyen said. “The meal exchange is supposed to help students feel not so lonely — [and] it’s also an opportunity to get international students into an American home and let them experience American family life.”

This year, the Center will match 98 international students with 49 different Charlottesville families.

Amy Anderson, a Darden Student Affairs employee, will participate in the meal exchange for the second time this year.

“It was such an enriching experience for both [my family] and the students,” Anderson said. “I loved being able to give these students a chance to be in a home when most people are no longer on Grounds.”

Through the program, international students bond while participating in quintessential Thanksgiving activities — from hiking to watching football to decorating gingerbread houses.

Third-year Commerce student Ee-Wern Yap, an international student from Malaysia who joined the Andersons for Thanksgiving last year, said the experience was one of her most memorable since coming to the University.

“Green bean casserole is now my favorite Thanksgiving dish because of [the Andersons],” Yap said. “I remember there was a full tray on the dinner table and I didn't know what it was until they offered it to me. I couldn't stop myself after that. It was embarrassing.”

The dinner was also a learning experience for the host family, Anderson said.

“One of the motivators for me doing [the program] is that I have two teenage daughters, and I wanted them to hear from an international student what it’s like to come here,” Anderson said.

Yap reflected on the kindheartedness of her host family.

“These kind folks proved how people can be generous to others, even if they're strangers,” Yap said. “I'm extremely grateful to them.”

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