In the fall semester, Thanksgiving is almost perfectly positioned. Right before the stress and loneliness of the weeks just before finals, students have a chance to see their families, have a meal fancier than all of the Woodies meals combined and get off campus to give themselves a last break before exams start. However, while campus is quiet and deserted, a few students are often left behind year after year: the international and exchange students.
As if being hours on a prohibitively expensive inter-continental flight away from home is hard enough, international students can be stuck on Tech’s barren campus with the few other people who likewise have nowhere else to go. While some communities, like the Graduate Living Center, have a built-in thanksgiving celebration for that very reason, other international students don’t have that option, a car, or anyone they know well enough to ask to come over for the holidays.
With Home for the Holidays, International students can sign up to be guests, and local families sign up to be hosts. The two groups are paired, and the final preparations are made. While SGA manages all of the logistics of this program, the generous families who graciously invite international students into their home for Thanksgiving and share their family time are the reason why this is possible.
Michaela Bartram, fourth-year CHBE and long time Host, shared her experiences with Rashmi, the most recent international student she hosted Thanksgiving 2014 and new friend. “She went to my mom’s house and to my aunt’s house. A lot of my family came over; she got the family experience and it was great for everyone. People kept asking her questions, so everyone gained something from the experience. I’m doing it again this year,” she said. She also recounted how her family made most of the Thanksgiving meal vegetarian anyway, so there was no difficulty at all accommodating her, and that it was good that Rashmi shared her dietary information, as it is easy to forget to ask that kind of thing.
Alex Berry, fourth-year IE, also shared his insight. “I learned how important it was to make sure that every single student on Tech’s campus, undergraduate or graduate, feels like they have a home. After studying abroad this summer, and having so many people reach out to me and make me feel safe and loved, it really hit home.”
Another benefit to international students is a further familiarization with American culture. Thanksgiving is one of the more uniquely American holidays, and while other harvest feasts and festivals are common, there’s no doubting that Thanksgiving conveys the American spirit in a way that nothing else can. International students get included in family traditions, whether it be watching football, working in a soup kitchen, playing board games or whatever unique traditions a family may have.
“After the Thanksgiving meal, I didn’t know what else to show her, so we went to the shopping which opened early on Black Friday,” Bartram said. “She hadn’t been shopping in America, and I thought that Black Friday was the best way to immerse her in American shopping. It’s so crazy and American, I thought it would be an interesting experience.”
Just as international students learn about America, the families hosting have an opportunity to listen to international students’ recollections of home and explanations of traditions, as well as ask questions and possibly forge new friendships.