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Thanksgiving as an international student

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University of Massachusetts student Xenia at a Thanksgiving gathering with family

Thanksgiving has always been a little bit of a myth to me. Having grown up in Bolivia, Thanksgiving was a thing I would see on TV, and not something real that people celebrated.

Although I didn’t really understand what the holiday was was about, I always had this weird dream of celebrating a big, all-American Thanksgiving.

My time finally came when I was fifteen.

I’d decided I wanted to experience an American high school. My mom sent me to live with my dad in Rhode Island for a couple of months after our school year ended (the Bolivian school year is from January to November). My dad was dating an American woman at that point, so I thought that a real TV-like Thanksgiving dinner was a sure thing for me.

By that point I had learned a little about American history in school, and I had a rough idea of what Thanksgiving was about, so I was even more excited to celebrate the holiday.

The only thing remotely comparable I had experienced was Christmas at home. My family, like most in Bolivia, celebrates the 24th as well as the 25th. We get together at around 9 p.m., have a huge dinner at 10:00, and then wait until midnight. At midnight, we wish each other a merry Christmas, and then stay until 3 a.m. opening presents, having desert, and just spending time together as a family. Not only that, but we’re a huge family and we tend to go all out, so I’m used to celebrating big holidays surrounded by at least 20 other people dressed in fancy holiday clothes.  

The last Thursday of November rolled around and I was ready to have a Thanksgiving holiday dinner.

I think you can imagine my disappointment when I was told that dinner would be served at 4 p.m (to this day, I don’t really understand why dinner is served so early), that fancy clothes were not a requirement, and that it would only be my dad, his girlfriend, her two kids, and me.

I went into the dining room with my spirit deflated, but as soon as I saw a table looking exactly like the ones I’d seen on TV, my hope was completely renewed. Still, even though I ate more than humanly possible, I was disappointed that I didn’t have a gigantic Thanksgiving.

Fast forward to 2019.

This year was a little weird because it was the first time in a while that I couldn’t fly home for break. Luckily, my cousin lives in Natick and she invited me to spend the holiday with her and her husband’s family.

Could this be it? Could this finally be the Thanksgiving I had been waiting for? The answer was yes!

I woke up on Thursday morning and descended to a TV playing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I then watched part of the National Dog Show and an America football game. Then, my cousin and I made some candied yams and pecan pie that ended up not being ready on time (guess what I ended up eating for the next three days?).

Dinner was still at 4 (which, again, why??), but this time there were more people, I got to wear a fancy dress, and I ate more food than I had all year. Finally, I’d had the Thanksgiving of my dreams.

While I had a wonderful time, I realized that it didn’t feel very different from my other Thanksgivings.

Over the years, I learned that Thanksgiving is not really about a fancy dinner. Like Christmas in Bolivia, it’s about getting together with those we care about the most and—as the name very obviously suggests—being thankful.  

And this year I was very thankful for having a home away from home. This is the longest I’ve been away from Bolivia, and while I hate not being able to fly there as often as I used to, I realized that UMass and Massachusetts as a whole had become my second home, and that I had people I loved here just like I do back in Bolivia.


Life at UMass
Transitioning to College

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