As an international student I knew what Thanksgiving was before coming to the United States. I didn’t understand, however, the importance of the holiday (as far as family gatherings go) and was baffled by my American peers' insistence on going home for the holiday. This past Thanksgiving was my eighth since I first came to the United States as a student, and I have certainly had some diverse Thanksgivings that I think other international students might encounter. (Disclaimer: actual experiences may vary…)

Your First Thanksgiving

This is the most exciting; you are new to the country and are admittedly curious to experience this holiday that you might have only seen in movies. Does cranberry sauce really go well with turkey? Will touch football in the backyard happen? Does your friend’s family have any other quirky traditions you may never have experienced? Do all aunts and uncles get drunk and political at the dinner table? These are all questions you need answers to, and since your roommate (or other American friend) has invited you home you may finally get them.

Thanksgiving at Princeton

Maybe you just want to sleep in and eat Qdoba for a full week or maybe no one invited you to stay at their home and you felt it was too awkward to just ask if you could come. Regardless of the reason, Thanksgiving week is here, and you find yourself in a semi-closed campus without much to do. The international student center always has a Thanksgiving for students who remain on campus, so you won’t be all alone all the time. As you begin your time of solitude you figure, “Hey, I might as well do something productive or visit some cool place.” You will not. Tickets anywhere during Thanksgiving are expensive and that unfinished season of “Stranger Things” is not going to watch itself. The whole break rolls by and you realize you didn’t clean your room, apply to that internship, or take that day trip to New York as you planned it. But hey, now you’re all caught up on Game of Thrones!

Thanksgiving Outside the U.S.:

Maybe you had a good paying finanz (what all the cool kids call it nowadays) internship last summer, or maybe you want to treat yourself even though it may not be financially prudent. You think to yourself, “What is this Thanksgiving thing anyway?!?! I lived at home without it for 19+ years. I can survive without it one more year.” So, full of confidence, you book a ticket (well in advance) back home or to Cancun or maybe just to Florida. Who knows, maybe you will have a Thanksgiving dinner somewhere where the turkey is substituted by arroz con pollo or the Thursday night football game is a soccer game featuring your hometown team. Hey, maybe even another lonely international friend will tag along. It will be a blast, but much like other trips, maybe the Airbnb wasn’t as clean as advertised…. or you got lost in a seedy part of town. Inevitably, though, you will be filled with that weird longing to return to Princeton where you can settle back into your routine.

The Surprise Thanksgiving:

You didn’t have plans for this break. You were going to just hunker down with fruit snacks, wake up at 3:00 pm and go to bed at 4:00 am, but your friend from New York City whose father is a first-generation Russian immigrant is having a Thanksgiving dinner and he invited other Russian expats for dinner. This could go down in any number of ways. It may be awkward, but they are opening their house to you. So, looking forward to the night ahead and with a housewarming gift you bought from the Palmer Square Lindt store, you board that Dinky. You arrive at your friend’s house a little nervous and are introduced to all the people already there. You don’t understand a word of what anyone is saying. There’s no marshmallow and sweet potato casserole, but there is Russian candy. And as you talk to the other people in attendance you slowly feel more and more comfortable as this surrealist combination of cultures starts to evolve into a merry night where you can share your experiences from back home and realize how similar or different they are from those of your friend’s Russian guests. As you say goodbye to your friend and her family you wonder if you will ever experience something so uniquely American and foreign again.

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