Unlike most of his friends, Weinberg sophmore Leo Hu, originally from Shanghai, China, is not going home this Thanksgiving. In fact, he said he really doesn't feel any connection to the holiday at all.
“I have no idea what Thanksgiving celebrates,” he said, “but we get holidays.”
Every year the university tries to keep all of the students staying on campus for Thanksgiving Break occupied. Many residential communities, like the Communications Residential College, plan events and a dinner for those staying behind.
Journalism professor Roger Boye, the residential master for CRC, hosts Thanksgiving dinner for students every year.
“It helps them celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional way,” Boye said.
It all started 10 years ago when he took the students to a local restaurant for dinner. The event has continued to develop since then, and Boye has made some changes. Until last year, he has traditionally gathered a group of CRC residents – usually eight to 15 students – to spend the holiday at his own home and deliver Thanksgiving dinner to the elderly. This year, following the dorm’s kitchen remodeling, Boye is hosting Thanksgiving dinner in CRC.
Northwestern International Office Advisor Debbie Kaltman said events like Boye’s help international students feel a sense of belonging with the American holiday and connect them with Evanston families and the Chicago community. This sense of belonging, she added, will also allow them to share their culture with others.
That's why she and fellow advisor Stephanie Cisneros have developed a Thanksgiving hosting program for those staying behind. Aiming to “bring the world to your Thanksgiving table,” the university and the city have been collaborating on a “Host an International: Thanksgiving” program.
Already in its fifth year, the program invites Evanston families to host international students from Northwestern for Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, “Host an International” had 25 local families host 100 participating students, according to Cisneros. This year, the IO reached out to local Northwestern alumni for hosts as well as all of District 65, which encompasses all schools in the Evanston and Skokie area. As of mid-November, approximately 30-35 families have already signed up. Families who have hosted before have given positive reviews about the program.
“Families who have children love exposing their kids to different countries, cultures and languages,“ Kaltman said.
Some international students have also experienced Thanksgiving with the families of their friends. This is the case of Medill sophomore Sean Hong, who has only been in the U.S. for a year after leaving China, his home country.
“Last year I got invited to my roommate’s cousin's house for Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “Awesome experience.”
Kaltman agrees that creating opportunities to host international students makes them feel welcome and exposes them to the cultural aspect of the holiday.
“Thanksgiving is all about gathering your friends and family for a cozy meal, reflecting on all of the good in your life and relaxing,” Kaltman said. “By being invited to a local family’s home, international students get to see this unique side of American culture.”