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International students find ways to spend their Thanksgiving breaks in U.S.

Not everyone will be traveling home this Thanksgiving break. While most students return to their families, international students find alternative plans such as studying, relaxing or attending other families’ dinners.

Many international students find excitement in learning more about American culture. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, it does not get a lot of exposure in other countries. As Thanksgiving break approaches, some international students have the chance to experience a holiday unlike their own with American families.

Isaac Owusu Mensah, a graduate student studying mathematics, grew up in Ghana before coming to Ohio University.

“I usually use break to fill up some holes with my studies and prepare for exams, and it’s a good break to catch up on some sleep,” Owusu Mensah, who is studying for a doctorate degree, said.

During his second year at OU, Owusu Mensah was invited to his advisor’s family Thanksgiving dinner. He said he noticed turkey and other American foods as well as Guatemalan foods at the table. His advisor, Sergio Lopez, is from Guatemala and incorporates some of his home dishes with his wife’s American cuisine. 

Majed Zailaee, a graduate student studying mathematics, grew up in Saudi Arabia and came to OU in May 2014 with his wife. Zailaee had not heard of Thanksgiving before he came to the states.

Zailee experienced his first traditional Thanksgiving when he was invited by a friend to her house and he noticed there were turkey and fruit.

“I provided kebabs made from lambs,” Zailaee, who is studying for a doctorate degree, said. “They loved it. I was so proud.”

Zailaee said he loved the American food, especially pumpkin pie. He did not know what the dessert was until after he ate it.

“I tried to make pumpkin pie with my wife after that, and it didn’t turn out great,” Zailaee said.

Zailaee’s advisor, who is also Sergio Lopez, invited him to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner another year as well. Zailaee enjoyed the mixture of American and Guatemalan dishes.

“It was really nice because I didn’t think American families come together much just based on movies, but I learned once I experienced Thanksgiving that they do,” Zailaee said.

Zailaee said the Muslim holiday similar to Thanksgiving is Eid al-Adha, also called the “Feast of the Sacrifice.” During the celebration, attendees might eat lamb as the main course. This year, Eid al-Adha falls on July 30 in the U.S.

Viktoria Marinova, a graduate student studying for a doctorate degree in mass communication, was born in Bulgaria and immigrated to South Africa with her family when she was eight years old. She takes pride in learning about American culture while she receives her education in the states.

“Being open to incorporate yourself in that culture, and not just be a student, but to put in the effort to try to experience the culture, is so important and I highly recommend it,” Marinova said. “It’s not only about us teaching Americans about our culture, but also us learning and experiencing the American culture.”

A majority of media consumed in South Africa is American, so Marinova knew about the holiday of Thanksgiving before coming to the U.S., but she did not know certain details about it. 

“I just knew that it’s all about getting together, eating turkey and being grateful,” Marinova said. “I learned more about it, such as the traditional food, once I came here.”

During her first year at OU, she attended a “Friendsgiving” meal in which several international students got together and each brought food from their home countries. During the meal, they spoke about what they were thankful for.

“It was nice to come together with friends and experience different cultures,” Marinova said.

Marinova brought the Bulgarian pastry banitsa to the meal, a dish similar to quiche, consisting of yogurt, eggs and feta cheese. 

She experienced a more traditional Thanksgiving the following year when one of her professors invited her to his family’s gathering. While at the dinner table, she noticed all the different types of traditional American foods one would find at a Thanksgiving meal, such as turkey and cornbread.

Attending a traditional Thanksgiving gave Marinova the opportunity to learn about a holiday unlike her own, creating an experience she would not have encountered if not for traveling to the states.

“When you find yourself in these culturally diverse situations, you’ll learn so much,” Marinova said. “Going to Thanksgiving, I was able to learn about what is eaten, how it’s prepared, where it’s from … I learned so many things. Traveling is an education on its own.”


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