International students to hold Thanksgiving on campus

By Gus Bode

Factoid:Newman Catholic Student Center will host its 37th annual Thanksgiving Day meal from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 24.

As scores of students head home for Thanksgiving and celebrate the long tradition with family and others, many international students at the University still struggle with the meaning of the American holiday.

“We don’t exactly know the meaning for what we are doing – for what we are giving thanks to,” said Ayumi Suzuki, a senior studying cinema and photography from Kanagawa, Japan. “I think that’s how most of the international students feel. We eat turkey, (but) we really don’t know anything about Thanksgiving.


“We kind of follow what Americans are doing.”

For those students remaining on campus during break, the Newman Catholic Student Center is hosting its 37th annual Thanksgiving Day Meal from 12 to 2 p.m. on Nov. 24. Linda Brayfield, the Thanksgiving Coordinator from the center, said most of the 600 attendees are international students.

The first “Thanksgiving” occurred between the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, when a feast represented a thanks to the native people for teaching them how to farm and hunt in the new land. However, Thanksgiving Day was not declared a national holiday until 1941. The day of Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday of November.

To beat the boredom, several international students said they plan to travel the country or feast with American families on Thanksgiving Day. Both are new, learning experiences for many of the students as they explore American culture.

Next week, Suzuki will visit Tanzania and Kenya, countries in Africa, with other members of the Calvary Campus Church to do volunteer community service work at orphanages for HIV-positive children. She leaves Sunday and is expected to return in early December.

She said she usually celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday with a friend, but this year she is happy to be spending her time helping others.

Learning about the culture is one aspect of Thanksgiving Day that international students look forward to. Mohamed Ali, a senior from Cairo, Egypt, studying physical therapy, is spending his first year in the United States at SIUC.


He said he was invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a friend in the area and wants to use the time to learn about American culture and tradition. Ali said Egyptian culture does not celebrate Thanksgiving like we do but instead celebrates a religious holiday similar to it in January called Adha.

“We don’t celebrate (Thanksgiving) at all, because this is something about the United States history,” Ali said. “This will be my first experience with Thanksgiving. It’s a family celebration, and an opportunity to learn about the culture.”

Many students in the area said they were leaving, but a few said they were staying behind to work and catch up on some things school has taken them away from.

Devonne Robinson, a junior from St. Louis studying health education, said he is staying in the area to work at Wal-Mart but will be with his family on Thanksgiving Day. He said he felt bad for international students who had to stay in Carbondale during the breaks.

“I was here last year over Christmas,” he said. “It is deserted. There’s nothing to do.”

International Programs and Services has discontinued Thanksgiving break activities due to the increased number of students traveling during break, said Elaine Conrad, the department’s coordinator. The staff works through Wednesday to ensure no problems arise for international students when the rest of the University is closed. Conrad said they also take turns checking voicemails during the rest of the week in case there is an emergency.

“Basically, for us, it’s only a long weekend,” she said. “We haven’t had any major problems, but for those kind of things, we’re here if need be.”

Reporter Julie Engler can be reached at [email protected]