For international students, an American holiday like Thanksgiving doesnt always afford the family reunion it does for many American students.
Friends of Internationals, however, offered around 85 international students opportunities to spend the holiday with 40 USF families in a program called Thanksgiving Friendship Connections. The organization also worked with USF Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) and Aletheia Church to host an After-Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday evening in the USF BCM building.
The Sunday dinner began at 5:30 p.m., and Director of Friends of Internationals Joseph Pardo said the night was a success if students could meet someone new and make a connection.
We know its hard to connect when traveling, and we are here to help make that connection, he said.
Betsy Liu, an international student from China majoring in communications, spent the holiday break with a family in Hollywood, Fla., through the program.
Its a unique way to experience American culture, and eat good food, Liu said. I thought it was a nice opportunity for American families to get together and celebrate being a family.
Elizabeth Kern, president of USF Friends of Internationals and a junior majoring in health science, said she had been working to put on the event with the organization since Halloween.
Our goal is for international students to learn about Thanksgiving, feel welcome and to have a place to go for the holiday, she said.
Liu compared her Thanksgiving experience to the Spring Festival in China, where people celebrate the new harvest with family. While spending the weekend with another international student at a USF students house in Hollywood, Liu also got to experience Black Friday shopping.
Some people do come from China to shop, but I only buy what I need, she said. I had to shop in the middle of the night. It was crazy and everywhere was too crowded.
One of the local USF students who participated in Thanksgiving Friendship Connections was Matt Maury, a junior majoring in history, who hosted two international students from India in his Land O Lakes home. Maury met the two students the day of Thanksgiving, and spent the day playing football and eating a traditional-style dinner with them.
Its a good opportunity for those who arent celebrating to come and meet students at the university, Maury said.
Maury said the two students from India seemed to enjoy themselves, and were really thankful for the experience.
Id love to do it again next year if I could, he said.
Timur Luguev, a visitor from Makhachkala, Russia, doing research in computer science on campus, compared the holiday to New Years in Russia because a lot of families come together.
Its not celebrated anywhere else in the world, but its still one of the most celebrated ones in America, Luguev said. Its good when families can spend time together.
Luguev attended the event on Sunday evening and ate Thanksgiving dinner with a USF family off campus. He said it was nice to celebrate with a family and learn about them.
It was very interesting to meet so many people in the family of different ages, and meet people that are not just at USF, he said. It was nice being able to speak with so many people.
At the Sunday event, volunteers facilitated conversations about their experiences on Thanksgiving and explained the traditional food options of Thanksgiving dinner, such as turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
From the experiences and feedback of those who hosted international students, Kern said many enjoyed the opportunity of diversity the holiday brought. However, Kern said many international students werent aware of the historical significance behind the holiday.
When we talked with the visiting students, we got a lot of feedback about the family and the food, but not really about the history, Kern said.
After a speaker from BCM shared a group prayer and another speaker recited a history of Thanksgiving, the dinner concluded with Pardo inviting international students to a Christmas party next week.