Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three First Thanksgivings

Last week, people in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday that is rooted in protestant tradition to show gratitude for a successful harvest. The holiday provided an opportunity for many international students to immerse themselves into American culture, take a break off school work and enjoy good food. Many international students have host families in the Twin Cities who let the students into their homes. We asked three first years how they spent their first ever Thanksgiving.

Joseph ‘Vandy’ Sengeh is from Sierra Leone. Before he came to the United States in September, he didn’t know anything about Thanksgiving. “I thought it was their freedom day. Back home we have an Independence Day, and I figured Thanksgiving was like that. Then I came here, and people told me that you just eat a lot. I don’t think most people know why they do, they just eat.” Vandy first went to his roommates’ house, where he had a big lunch. In the afternoon, he went to the house of his host family. There was a big company: grandparents, uncles, aunts and children. “They all wanted to know about Sierra Leone. Before I arrived, they had researched a lot of things about my country, and so when I got there they asked me more questions about it.” One thing Vandy noticed was how quiet everything is on Thanksgiving Day. “In Sierra Leone, on holidays, everyone is making noise and out on the street. Here, the streets were empty and quiet. I guess they just celebrate inside their homes.”

Sana Naz is from India. For her first Thanksgiving, she joined three other friends to the home of her friend Jake, not too far from Saint Paul. It was a huge gathering, with family, friends and neighbors. “I actually felt like being part of a family. We played with the kids, Jake’s cousins and the dogs. The family was sharing childhood stories of Jake and his sister, it was very cosy.” At dinner, they ate an enormous Thanksgiving meal. Before eating, they all shared something that they were thankful for. The meal was grand. “His dad had cooked turkey, there were mash potatoes, corn pie and seven pies for dessert! Afterwards, everyone said they were in a food coma.” Sana says she never felt like an outsider. “They were interested in where I am from, like what city I live in. It made it easy to blend in.” In the end, they went out to experience yet another American tradition: Black Friday. At midnight, many stores open to sell their goods with great discount. “We went to the Mall (of America) just for the experience. It was pretty crazy. We ended up staying till 7am!”

Left: Vandy working on dessert. Right: Sana and her friends at dinner

Rowena Foo (Malaysia) has a special host family. Her host father is the Macalester Dean of Students. Rowena really enjoyed being in the company of a family. “His mother and sister were there. We talked and played games, and ate a lot. They had an enormous turkey. I learned a lot of things about Thanksgiving. I learned that the stuffing doesn’t actually go inside the turkey and that the cranberry sauce is not really a sauce, and it doesn’t go on the turkey either!” They started eating at 3pm, and they didn’t really finish until 9pm. “An hour after eating, I would have some more space in my stomach so we would eat some more. It went on like this for a long time.” Like the others, Rowena got to clarify the Thanksgiving story. “I didn’t know anything about Thanksgiving. Then I came here and it was everywhere. Celebrating Thanksgiving at someone’s house is the best way to understand the holiday. Now I know what Thanksgiving is about!”

Rowena and her host family at dinner.