What do international students think Thanksgiving is?

International students at Boston University share their thoughts leading up to their first Thanksgiving. Opinions vary but they all know it has something to do with turkey 

November 22 2018
Thanksgiving for international students

Thanksgiving is an American holiday held on the fourth Thursday of November. The holiday’s origins go back to 1621, when the English settlers known as the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Native Americans who helped them survive that first year in the New World.

International students at Boston University who are preparing to experience their first Thanksgiving shared their impressions of the holiday. While everyone was certain that turkey was involved, many said they that were just learning about it for the first time.

“I first heard about it when I was planning to come to the US because people were telling me, ‘Oh, Thanksgiving’s a really big thing over there’,” said Joseph Tang, from Manila, Philippines. “I didn’t really know anything about it.”

“Most of what I know is from watching Friends,” said Pratibha Gopalakrishna, a first-year graduate student from Bengaluru, India. “I don’t know why they celebrate it, I don’t know about the history, but I know that it’s very important.”

“I know, from what I’ve seen, that it started with people who wore hats – I believe they’re called Pilgrims. I think they shared a dinner with Native Americans, and at this dinner…they had turkey,” said Brandon Lau, from Melbourne, Australia. “I’m not sure what the purpose was, but I know there were Pilgrims, Native Americans, and turkeys.”

Some first-year students were familiar with Thanksgiving thanks to history classes in their home countries.

Maria Lazou said that she learned a lot of US history at the school she attended in her native Ukraine, including the reason for this particular holiday. “I know that when English people immigrated to the US, they met some local people,” she says. “And these local people…they gave them, as far as I remember, turkey – that’s why it’s on the Thanksgiving table.”

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Anastasia Eremina, who comes from Moscow, attended a US high school in Lausanne, Switzerland. “I know that it’s a holiday where the family gathers and has a big dinner with turkey and mashed potatoes,” she said. The students at her high school in Switzerland celebrated a number of US holidays and traditions, including Thanksgiving.

While many international students weren’t clear about the holiday’s specific origins, most of them were aware of important it was. 

“It’s about being grateful for what you have, like the people around you, your family, your friends,” said Ariane Vigna from Paris. “And it’s also the time of the year when plane tickets are most expensive.”

Many of the international students said that they will be joining US friends and classmates for Thanksgiving celebrations. Others plan to visit New York City – maybe to catch the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while they are in town.

Several mentioned looking forward to the shopping and retail bargains now synonymous with the holiday. Elisa Lopes said she may go shopping with her roommate, but is a bit wary because of the stories she’s heard about the crowds. While stores have similar sales at home in São Paulo, Brazil, Lopes says, “here, they told me, it’s insane, that everything is very, very, very cheap. So I’m really scared”.

No matter what they are doing to celebrate the holiday weekend, all the students we interviewed said that they were looking forward to the four-day break from classes.

“I’m really excited, because I’m really tired,” said Lazou.

This article originally appeared in BU Today, the website for the Boston University campus community.

Read more: Best universities in the United States 


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