In 1621, a group of merry pilgrims in buckled shoes and kindly Native Americans in colorful headdresses sat down together to share a sumptuous turkey feast in Plymouth, Mass.
Or so goes the long-perpetuated stereotype
of the first Thanksgiving Day, which according to senior Sarah Mumma, “is a whole bunch of lies anyway.”
Lies or not, the tradition of Thanksgiving
continues today. But it does so almost exclusively within the United States, possibly alienating a modern type of pilgrim at Temple: the international student.
“This is an American holiday, so we do not celebrate that at home,” said senior psychology major Luci Motoca, an international student from Galati, a city in eastern Romania.
“Students don’t know where to go. It’s a four-day break. You don’t want to stay by yourself and feel lonely. Better go to an American family and learn about the meaning of it.”
Last year, that’s exactly what Motoca did. She celebrated Thanksgiving with an American family who volunteered to host her through an annual program offered by the Office of International Services.
“When I went last year, I was very impressed with the different dishes,” she said, adding that her host family was very gracious. “They even provided me with transportation back to my house.”
Now an OIS peer international educator, Motoca is helping to coordinate this year’s program along with fellow peers Mumma and senior international student Erika Oshima.
Mumma, who is in charge of the Thanksgiving
program, is responsible for matching student applicants with host families. She said OIS processes about 20 to 30 matches each year, adding that a very small percentage of international students partake in the program.
“It’s not a huge pool to pick from,” said the English and Asian Studies double major. “But host families are very understanding of that and they’re just happy to invite somebody into the home and share their own culture.”
Oshima, a senior Religion and Asian Studies major hailing from Tokyo, Japan, often finds herself missing her family during this time of the year. She first heard about Thanksgiving in an English class she took in Japan, but gained a more in-depth knowledge of the holiday after coming to Temple in 2003 and interacting with Americans.
“I get envious because [American students] get to spend time with their families,” Oshima said.
She also participated in last year’s program and was hosted by Michael Stokes, director of the Russell Conwell Center. “It was fabulous, … and I must say, quite fascinating,” she said. “The family was African American. They didn’t have turkey, but they had pork and also collared greens and yam – the Southern food.”
Oshima’s peer duties include organizing international “coffee hours,” which feature guest speakers from different countries each week.
Fliers advertising OIS’s Thanksgiving program were distributed during these coffee hours. Sophomore Evan Denion, a regular attendee, took notice.
The Asian Studies major decided to host his friends, two students from Temple University Japan, for the holiday. Denion plans to take them to his grandmother’s house in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where his family will be having Thanksgiving
“They were just going to stay at The Edge, so I just thought it would be nice for them to come home and have dinner with me,” he said. “They’ve only ever been to big cities
in America like New York and Philadelphia. Wilkes-Barre is kind of a suburb, so I wanted to show them what it was like so they could compare it to suburbs in Japan.”
Mumma said OIS also tries to reach out to students in its Intensive English Language Program.
“I think the hardest group to tap into is the Intensive English Language Program students,” she said. “It’s kind of daunting [for them] to think about going to stay with an American family outside of the city for an evening. It’s a big hurdle. I’m not quite sure what those students do for the holidays.”
Maureen McNervey, assistant director of OIS, said IELP doesn’t hold its own Thanksgiving program for students.
“The peers do such a great job that we never felt that we needed to be in competition in any way shape or form,” she said.
Robin Tsukada, another international student from Tokyo, entered the IELP program in 2004. The sophomore was clueless about Thanksgiving traditions when he signed up for the OIS program last year.
Inviting his friends – two international students from Korea and Taiwan – to tag along, Tsukada caught a train to his host family’s Philadelphia home. There, they taught him about American Thanksgiving traditions.
“I didn’t know how to cook a whole turkey. They showed me the process and they told me everything,” he said, speaking in thickly accented English. “I was just kind of homesick my first year. I would feel better to see other people’s families get together, laughing and smiling. It reminded
me of my family.”
Motoca said the program was also beneficial for American families, allowing them “to learn a little bit about the culture of the student and the country where she or he is coming from.”
Tsukada spoke of this cultural exchange during his experience with his host family. “They [asked] all of us if we have this kind of event in Taiwan or Korea and Japan, and we just kind of shared some culture and talked about what we eat during New Year and the holidays,” he said.
Oshima said that despite cultural differences, she found that the family-oriented values of Thanksgiving are no different to many traditional Japanese holidays.
“As you study different cultures, you realize that there are so many things that we share in common,” she said. “No matter where you’re from, what we value is the same.”
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at email@example.com