International Thanksgiving 


What non-Americans do for the five-day holiday. 

Observed every year on the fourth Thursday in November, American Thanksgiving Day is a celebration that was originally meant to give thanks for the blessings of the fall harvest. Today, it has become a tradition of reuniting families over football games and a cornucopia of food. Additionally, many families have created their own thanksgiving traditions, such as volunteering in soup kitchens, attending or viewing the New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and breaking the turkey’s wishbone for a wish. During the five-day break, most college students return home to bond with family members; but what about international students who have no kin in America?

Through media and cultural diffusion, most international students are knowledgeable about the stereotypical American Thanksgiving traditions; however, unless they are ethnically or culturally American, many have not experienced it first-hand. Fortunately, attending a college in the United States gives many internationals the opportunity to participate in the festivities, and, hopefully, have a greater appreciation of American traditions and culture. The five-day break may be ample time for American students to travel home, but for international students it is somewhat costly and time-prohibitive to do the same. For this reason, most international students typically join American friends, stay on campus or visit high school friends in major cities.

Daniel Shen ’19 from Toronto, Canada, for instance, is taking the bus down to Cooperstown, New York to stay with his roommate Jacob Russell ’19, who plans to share with Shen the full American Thanksgiving experience – family, food and football. It is also a tradition in the Russell household to drink cider made from the apples on his family’s property, and this is something that he is excited to share with Shen. Jeewon Lee ’18 spent last year’s Thanksgiving in New York with her parents who flew from Manila, Philippines to be with her. This year, once again, her parents will be joining her in NYC, as they believe Thanksgiving should be spent with family. Also in NYC, Lee will be rekindling friendships with her high school buddies from British School Manila. A junior, who chooses not to be named, wasn’t able to go anywhere for Thanksgiving and stayed on campus last year. However, he did manage to attend the Thanksgiving meal at Adams House, which was “kind of Harry Potter-esque.”  Despite the long trip, James Nakajima ’18 flew back to London to spend time with his family. However this year, he finds it “hard to justify going home for that amount of time” so Nakajima will be spending time with his uncle near Boston.

International students in other universities face a similar predicament of where to go for Thanksgiving. Midori Fujitani ’19 from Bangkok, attending Goucher College, organized Thanksgiving festivities on campus and then joined his roommate back home to experience first hand American Thanksgiving customs. Benjamin Jimenez ’19 of Northeastern had a mini family reunion in Los Angeles with cousins, who are also international students. Ariana Mapua ’19 of Carnegie Mellon also planned to visit her stateside family but Thanksgiving turned into a “funky” adventure. She trekked up to Canada to ski at Mont Tremblant, visited friends at McGill, and “chilled” with a cousin in Montreal.

As an American citizen, born and raised in Manila, Philippines, I am in a unique situation. My family celebrates Thanksgiving in Manila with other American expatriates, and staples of stuffed turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, and pecan or apple pie. However our feast is fused with Filipino dishes of pancit noodles and fried banana turons. While this is going to be my first Thanksgiving away from home, I am excited to be spending it ‘international-style.’ Thanksgiving Day will be spent with my grandparents and uncle in New Jersey, and “Airbnb-ing” with my international college friends in New York City. We will have our eclectic feast of food from Haiti, China, the Philippines and many other countries, and I will prepare my specialty of chicken and pork adobo. I will also meet with my high school friends from International School Manila, all the while thanking this beautiful holiday for being the ideal time to celebrate with family and friends, old and new.


Daniel Um ’19 ([email protected]) can’t wait to have a Friendsgiving.