International Students Get Taste of Thanksgiving

Contact Sarah Kamshoshy at [email protected]

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On the day before Thanksgiving, when many students were rushing to go home, senior Fatma Hassan and graduate student Ernesto Tejeda-Yeomans could be found having a casual conversation on a bench in front of the International House.

Hassan and Tejeda-Yeomans are just two of the many international students who attend UC Berkeley and could not head back to their home countries for the break.

“There is a feeling that people are going home,” said Hassan, a political science major from the United Kingdom. “There’s definitely that ‘OK, I should be going home, too’ feeling, but home is too far away.”

International students, who are often far from home and not necessarily attached to American culture, found unique ways to spend their Thanksgiving weekends, either on their own or with the help of campus administrators.

The I-House has two formal activities it organizes for its international students, said David Gilliam, program assistant membership coordinator for the house.

“Many of (the students) say they are here in this country and want to experience the American holiday of Thanksgiving,” Gilliam said.

One I-House program connects international students with families who are willing to host them for Thanksgiving, Gilliam said. About 30 students signed up to be hosted by 12 different families as a part of a larger, ongoing hosting program.

I-House residents also have a dinner on Thanksgiving Day with food provided and prepared by the house dining services, but the students prepare for the event and clean up afterward.

About 40 students attend the dinner, which has been held for at least the past 20 years, Gilliam said.

“Part of their experience here is to experience American holidays,” Gilliam said.

Some resident assistants in the residence halls set up Thanksgiving activities, said Jerlena Griffin-Desta, executive director of the Office for Student Development within the Residential and Student Service Programs and Student Affairs offices.

Sophomore Michael Markham, a Unit 3 residence assistant, was on duty this Thanksgiving and decided to plan a dinner for the residents staying in the building.

Over 20 students attended the event, which the resident assistants planned using some campus funding

“I was thinking in terms of (the residents). I thought it would be nice for them to experience Thanksgiving,” Markham said, adding that he also wanted to have a dinner for himself, since he could not go home.

Many students arranged informal holiday activities between themselves.

Some international students go home with American friends for Thanksgiving, as Hassan did, while others plan small Thanksgiving events in their residences with friends.

However, some students use the Thanksgiving holiday to go on camping or road trips, Hassan and Tejeda-Yeomans said.

Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, not all students care to participate in it, said Tejeda-Yeomans, a civil engineering graduate student from Mexico.

“We don’t have Thanksgiving in our home countries, so to foreign students it’s like another long weekend,” Tejeda-Yeomans said.


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