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A helping of hospitality

Students from all over the world came to the College of Education on Tuesday night to celebrate that most quintessential of American holidays: Thanksgiving.

The English Language Institute (ELI) and the International Services Office hosted the event to bring students of diverse backgrounds together to celebrate and learn about the holiday.

“I heard about Thanksgiving before coming here,” said Khadija Mitu of Bangladesh. “I didn’t know it was this great celebration. To have people get together for the food, for the occasion itself, it’s great.”

Students started celebrating by writing notes of thankfulness and posting them on a paper tree taped to a wall. They eventually covered it with messages written in dozens of languages but generally reflecting the same sentiment – expressing thanks for family, friends and good health.

The students then dined on a traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans and gravy.

The mashed potatoes and gravy was by far the most popular item, with many students raving about how much they enjoyed it. Other dishes tasted strange to students who didn’t normally eat such things, like the sweetly sour cranberry sauce served with the meal.

“I liked everything, but the cranberries were new, mixing sweet and salty food,” said Hala Faraj of Oman. “It was still nice.”

This was Faraj’s second Thanksgiving in the United States. In 2006, she spent the holiday with an American family, watching football and eating turkey.

Many students said they plan to spend the holiday with an American family as well, in order to better understand what Thanksgiving is all about. Some students, like Faraj and Omar Al Rashdan, said they planned to use the break to travel around the country to see what America is like.

“Free turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy is very nice,” Al Rashdan said. He is from Kuwait and is at USF to study English in the ELI program. After completing the program, Al Rashdan hopes to pursue a degree in business

administration.

“Usually when we are eating like this with our families, we have it every day,” he said. “But sometimes on a celebration … we’ll have the whole family, like 30 or 40 people all together. It’s great.”

The students used the meal as a way to become better acquainted and discuss the traditional holidays of their home countries. Students from Japan spoke of the New Year’s celebration there with its traditional meal of fish, seaweed and rice cakes.

Students from Angola discussed holiday life in their home country, especially the Christmas and Passover celebrations, when children find presents baked into cakes.

All agreed there are strong similarities between the American celebration of Thanksgiving and the holidays they practice back home.

“Since I’m here I tried to know the history … and that made me more interested,” said Mitu. “We have many different kinds of holidays – Muslim holidays, Bangladeshi holidays. The whole idea of celebrating is incorporating family and friends and lots of food.”