An American holiday for international students

U.Va. groups, community hosts provide options for students staying on Grounds during Thanksgiving

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This past weekend, the IRC hosted its annual Thanksgiving meal for residents, which featured foods ranging from tradition American dishes to creole-spiced mac and cheese.

Celina Hu | Cavalier Daily

Thanksgiving break offers many University students the opportunity to leave Grounds and visit family and friends. However, not all students are able to go home, especially the international students who make up about 5 percent of each incoming undergraduate class, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

International students come from many different cultures, and some who have never experienced Thanksgiving before get the chance to experience the American holiday through programs put on by the University. In addition, Charlottesville has a large network of host families that offer hospitality to international students at a time when others are at home with their families.

Pre-Thanksgiving at the IRC

Several groups at the University offer Thanksgiving activities for students staying on Grounds. This past Saturday, the Cooking Coalition of the International Residential College organized a Thanksgiving meal for its residents.

Second-year College student Claire Burke, minister of the interior for IRC’s student council, said the Cooking Coalition puts on events that help students experience new cultures through food. She said food is a universal language students can use to strengthen their communities.

“We put on events that make people either feel at home, or bring them to a new place,” Burke said. “We help people come together by preparing and eating food. The dishes we prepare might bring some people home or give them the opportunity to share their cultures.”

Burke said the Cooking Coalition has put on this Thanksgiving meal for the past four years. Although some aspects change from year to year, such as the people preparing the meal, the general objectives have remained the same. Burke said about 230 students attended this year’s meal.

While the meal had a base of traditional Thanksgiving foods, the Cooking Coalition also incorporated certain cultural dishes into the menu, such as creole-seasoned mac and cheese.

“[The meal] isn’t necessarily a traditional Thanksgiving, but it definitely fits in with the international vibe,” Burke said. “We also want to make sure that everyone can have a good time, so we try to make a menu that suits everyone. It’s a lot of work, but when you can include everyone, it’s all worth it.”

Burke said students from all different backgrounds, international and domestic, live together in the IRC and develop a sense of community, especially around the holidays.

“Thanksgiving dinner during my first year was really fun because everyone was together,” Burke said. “I was with this group of people that I really love and enjoy. I think that’s special here because you have people from so many different backgrounds.”

Dining during the break

The IRC also offers a program called Hooliday Dining, which gives University students the chance to have a Thanksgiving meal during the break. Assoc. College Dean Sandy Seidel, who serves as the IRC’s director of studies, has been involved in Hooliday Dining for three years.

“The IRC provides the location and coordinates the effort to get the food in here,” Seidel said. “We get it set up so that students in the IRC and any other undergraduate students can come here and share a meal together.”

Seidel said Hooliday Dining has been very successful in past years, adding that it allows students from the IRC and the greater University community to come together during a time when Grounds is otherwise very quiet.

“It’s very nice to get students out of their rooms and to bring them together,” Seidel said. “I imagine that it’s very easy for students to feel isolated if they’re here during a time when others are with their families. [Hooliday Dining] is just the right thing to do for our students.”

The IRC plans to host about 100 students each night the dinner is offered. Marc Guzman, assistant director of Multicultural Student Services, and third-year College student Gabby Moreth have worked closely with the U.Va. Parents Fund to finance these dinners.

Seidel stressed that any undergraduate student should feel welcome at Hooliday Dining, regardless of whether or not they are an international student.

“Any undergraduate student who is staying here over the holiday is welcome to come to the IRC,” Seidel said.

Opportunities in the greater community

Second-year College student Gordon Bailey, co-chair of Second Year Council’s outreach committee, said SYC organizes a program called Thanksgiving Exchange. The program allows second-year students to attend a Thanksgiving meal with a host family in Charlottesville.

“The majority of students here grew up with Thanksgiving dinner,” Bailey said. “People are so accustomed to it. Outreach just wanted to create another opportunity for students who can’t experience the holiday for whatever reason.”

Bailey said although the program usually caters to international students, all second-year students who cannot go home for break are welcome to participate.

“If you’re staying on Grounds because you’re an international student or for any other circumstance, you can sign up,” Bailey said. “The program is for the entire class.”

The Lorna Sundberg International Center offers a similar program for students of all years called Thanksgiving Meal Match. Through this program, the center matches international guests with local hosts for a meal on Thanksgiving day. The LSIC website says Thanksgiving Meal Match is “a great experience for internationals to experience a traditional American holiday and for local families to share their hospitality.”

Each year, professors also open their homes and invite students to join them and their families for Thanksgiving dinner. Curry Prof. Joanna Williams invited all of the students who work in her lab to spend time with her and her family on Thanksgiving day.

“I think many of you have plans to see family and friends, but if you’re looking for something to do on Thanksgiving, let me know,” Williams said in an email to her students. “You’d be welcome to hang out with our family.”

Even though Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday, Burke emphasized the importance of people opening their homes to welcome international students.

“There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds [at the University],” Burke said. “You can go to this table and see people from 10 different countries. It’s just amazing to see the variety of people that can come together and share a meal.”

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