Herter on a snowy day
Student Voices

Thanksgiving as an International Student

Table set for Thanksgiving dinner

While the holiday season is filled with high spirits and festivity, it can often be a difficult time for international students who are living far away from family. Despite their intended effects, the sights, sounds, and festivities may heighten feelings of homesickness by reminding students of the warmth and familiarity they are missing. Nevertheless, many students embody the spirit of cheer and participate wholeheartedly in the celebrations. For many international students, few holidays feel more quintessentially American than Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving Day is a nationwide celebration in the United States that commemorates the harvest and blessings of the past year. Despite the conventional narrative surrounding the origins of Thanksgiving, the holiday often carries a symbolic weight of utmost suffering for the Native Americans, given the violent history of oppression of the Wampanoag people and other communities by the Pilgrims. Nevertheless, many Americans find their own ways to celebrate the holiday and carve out some time to relax. Some opt to stay indoors and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, while others meet up with family and friends for a hearty feast of turkey and mashed potatoes, among other traditional Thanksgiving foods. 

International students also participate in the festivities with a lot of enthusiasm. Despite being far away from home, they embrace the American culture and join the celebrations or create their own version of an ideal Thanksgiving. Whether through potluck dinners or taking short vacations to relish the last few days of fall weather, these students find ways to connect with the spirit of gratitude and joviality that define Thanksgiving. Some may even choose to accompany their local friends to their family’s Thanksgiving celebrations, further immersing themselves in the cultural experience. 

Ever since my time at UMass began, I have had the opportunity to join my roommate Ethan at his family’s Thanksgiving celebrations. It was during my first Thanksgiving with them that I experienced firsthand—beyond the episodes of my favorite American sitcoms—the warmth and camaraderie of this tradition. Whether it was the prayer of gratitude before the meal, the hearty feast itself, or the endless games, gossip, and pies that followed, every aspect of the Thanksgiving celebration became a cherished part of my experience. 

Cape Cod beach

Thanks to his invitation last year, I also got a chance to visit Cape Cod, which is where some of his family resides, and despite the chilly winds, we enjoyed a few hours at a picturesque beach.

This cultural exchange is a vital component of international education and an invaluable opportunity for international students like myself to immerse themselves in the diverse array of customs and traditions in the U.S. These interactions build bridges of understanding across seemingly distinct cultures, revealing unexpected threads of similarity that underscore our shared experiences. When Ethan’s family gathered on Thanksgiving, I was struck by the familiar nature of the atmosphere of celebration: the warmth, laughter, and joyous commotion echoed the vibrant dinner parties during Diwali and Raksha Bandhan in my own family. This was a reminder of the shared essence of festive gatherings that transcend cultural and geographical boundaries.