Jogging through the frosty streets of Chicago, sophomore Victoria Saldh passed strangers telling her “Happy Thanksgiving.” This was how her first Thanksgiving celebration started last year.
“I wish it was a holiday in Sweden,” Saldh said. In her hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, Thanksgiving is like any other day in November: cloudy, cold and rainy.
Saldh transferred to Elon University this fall from the University of South Carolina. She celebrated her first Thanksgiving last year with her friend’s family and said she liked the positive environment during the holiday.
“I knew what Thanksgiving was because of movies, and I knew they ate turkey, but that’s it,” Saldh said.
Saldh said she and many international students have never celebrated the holiday before coming to the U.S. and have only seen it in movies. She said some of her friends from home might not even know what Thanksgiving is.
Saldh, along with other international students and staff were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner with Elon University’s President Connie Book to experience traditional Thanksgiving food and about the history of Thanksgiving last Sunday.
“It’s a fun, unique American holiday to celebrate with international students,” Book said.
Book said this dinner is a tradition at Elon that has been around for more than 30 years.
This year’s dinner was held in McCoy Commons instead of Numen Lumen Pavilion to accommodate more people, Director of Events Carolyn Ent said.
Ent said another change to this year’s dinner was that there was a program where Book, and domestic students spoke about the Thanksgiving traditions and history.
Associate Director of International Student Services Kristen Aquilino who works with international students at Elon, highlighted the dinner as a great way to bring the international community together.
Aquilino is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner herself for international students on Thanksgiving Day at the Isley International House.
During Aquillio’s Thanksgiving celebration last year a group of 15 students, staff and family came together in the Isley House. According to Aquilino, the kitchen was a mess, full of people cooking and singing, which in the end turned into a festive meal where everyone went around the table and said what they’re grateful for.
She said she hopes this year’s dinner will be just as fun, but also a bit more organized.
Aquilino is not the only person hosting Thanksgiving dinner for international students. She also said members in the local community, faculty and staff at Elon expressed interest in hosting international students for Thanksgiving meals.
“We’re always trying to find opportunities to involve and build in community,” Aquilino said.
Elon lets international students stay on campus during Thanksgiving break, even though the university residence halls close on Saturday, Nov. 23. Aquilino said the number of students staying is often quite small because students choose to travel or go home with their friends.
Saldh is one international student traveling during Thanksgiving break. She plans to meet her friends from University of South Carolina Upstate and travel to Washington, D.C. to explore more of the U.S.
“All of us are international, so we have nowhere to go, no house to go to,” Saldh said.
Saldh said it is hard to not be able to travel home during this break, especially with everyone around her talking about going home to family and friends.
“It makes it easier that it’s not a holiday back home. Of course, I want to go home, but it’s not like I’m missing any holiday,” Saldh said.
Saldh said Thanksgiving reminds her of Christmas because of the focus on spending time with family and friends and all of the traditional food.
Aquilino said one of her favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the time she gets to spend with her friends and family. She said she also likes having time to relax and be grateful.
Book talked about her favorite parts of Thanksgiving during the Thanksgiving dinner for international students, saying, “I’m grateful for the family time and the tradition of saying all the things that we’re grateful for.”
The focus on gratitude and being thankful is one of Saldh’s favorite parts of Thanksgiving. She said the dinner was a nice way to introduce international students to Thanksgiving and bring the community together.
“They’re very involved and try to make us feel at home here, which I really appreciate,” Saldh said.