With a thick, golden brown turkey as the centerpiece, Southern Missouri State University invited international students over the weekend to attend an American Thanksgiving meal. While celebrating the usual food and autumn traditions, the students said they were very grateful for the opportunity to get together as a university family.
MSSU President Dean Van Galen and his wife, Mary, hosted the event for 27 international students on Sunday at the North School Area. Students from Japan, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Kenya, Haiti and many other world countries were present. Members of the MSSU Board of Governors served as table hosts, inviting conversations and sharing the international traditions of each table.
We thought it would be fun and meaningful for international students to experience a traditional American holiday: Thanksgiving, Van Galen said. It is an opportunity for our international students to get together with members of our Board of Governors and others to learn about Thanksgiving, to think about the idea of gratitude, and to share a little about their cultures as well. While many countries around the world have harvest festivals or Thanksgiving celebrations, Thanksgiving is uniquely American and Canadian.
American Thanksgiving traditions were central to lunch. In addition to the turkey, the Fresh Ideas food service served a meal of potatoes, sweets and puree; casserole with green beans; cranberries; filling; and pies. The leftover boxes were equipped with instructions on how to serve cold turkey sandwiches. In honor of another American pastime long associated with Thanksgiving, the North American Zone facility provided a splendid view of Fred G. Hughes football stadium.
After the meal, turkey hibernation began to come.
They all loved the rooster; as it begins to digest, everyone is beginning to understand the sleeping part of the Thanksgiving tradition, “said Stacey Clay, international coordinator for student services. Many people have heard of Thanksgiving, but they have no idea what it is or how we celebrate It is another reflection of what we consider normal and traditional.
Van Galen shared the story of Thanksgiving with students before the meal. He talked about the history of the first Thanksgiving Day in the 17th century and when the holiday was officially established by law on the last Thursday in November in America in 1942. The students said they particularly liked the story of the turkeys being forgiven by the presidents of United States. This tradition continues to this day, with President Joe Biden forgiving two turkeys named Peanut Butter and Jelly earlier this week.
The main theme of the day was the importance of gratitude and being grateful, Van Galen said. It was also an opportunity for students to learn the history of this unique American holiday. We also talked about what a family holiday is like in the United States, with the idea of bringing them together today as members of the Lion family.
The students said they appreciated this Thanksgiving tradition the most, especially because they are away from their family and friends this holiday season.
That’s one thing they all have in common, that they’re all experiencing the same thing, Clay said. Give them the feeling that you are welcome here. When dorms and campuses close, we do not want that isolation for them. We want them to know that Missouri Southern is a hospitable campus. For this they were here, to make them feel at home.
Eslam Sharif is a student from Cairo, studying industrial engineering technology at MSSU. Although this was not Sharif’s first Thanksgiving Day, he said he was grateful for the invitation to share the company with other international students during a vacation he would normally spend alone.
Last year, an American family invited me for Thanksgiving and it was a good time, Sharif said. “It was something different for me. So this is my second time on Thanksgiving. I got to know Thanksgiving a little bit more this time and I like it. It’s nice to meet different people here. You get different perspectives when you interact with people from different cultures, countries, languages.You should not limit yourself to people who are like you.You should see what is happening.
Ropafadzo Nyakutya, a pre-medical student from Zimbabwe, is studying biochemistry at MSSU. Sunday lunch was her first experience with Thanksgiving Day and its variety of food.
I’m not used to eating with so many people for Thanksgiving, “Nyakutya said.” Thanksgiving is a good tradition; there is a lot of food. But in African culture there is also a lot of food, so I like it. Overall, the food was very good because there was a variety, and everything had different flavors. It was my first time I had any fruit pie and the apple pie was the best.
Nyakutya said the Thanksgiving experience encouraged her to start a tradition of her own. Thankful for the hospitality of the universities during Thanksgiving Day, she said she wants to continue sharing the holiday traditions with her friends.
The important part is being with friends; you want to be with people you are grateful for, Nyakutya said. This has inspired me to have our Thanksgiving Day with friends later. Maybe later I will eat a meal of friends for Thanksgiving because international students do not have their families here. You just have to have Thanksgiving with friends. I am thankful that I have people around me who do not feel alone during this holiday.
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