The many faces of Turkey Day

Most students take going home for a week, gorging on turkey and watching football for granted. For others, however, Thanksgiving has a different meaning. These students have an international perspective on the holiday, whether they have experienced Thanksgiving in a country away from home or are soaking up the cranberry sauce for the first time.

Mabinty Tarawallie, senior in LAS

Hometown: Freetown, Sierra Leone

Tarawallie has been celebrating Thanksgiving since moving to Champaign from Western Africa at the age of 11,

“My favorite memory of Thanksgiving was my first year in the U.S.,” Tarawallie said. “My uncle made a huge turkey, which I was excited about, because it was huge and I knew from then on Thanksgiving meant lots and lots of food.”

While turkey has become a family staple on Thanksgiving, Tarawallie said traditional dishes such as fried fish, fried plantains, cassava leaf with rice and pepper soup are also served.

“Turkey and cranberry is the only American food I think we prepare, everything else is traditional,” Tarawallie said.

Nonetheless, Tarawallie believes her family’s Thanksgiving meals capture the essence of the holiday.

“We have definitely integrated into the American lifestyle,” Tarawallie said. “My family loves Thanksgiving just like every American family.”

Vikas Chandan, graduate student

Hometown: Ranchi, India

For Chandan, who did not move to the U.S. until he was 22 years old, Thanksgiving is still a new concept.

“I knew about Thanksgiving from my schoolbooks when I was growing up in my home country,” Chandan said. “Since it is not celebrated there, I did not know a whole lot of details.”

Despite having gone through two Thanksgivings since he moved to the U.S., Chandan has yet to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

“I am excitedly looking forward to this year’s Thanksgiving and in particular the traditional turkey meal,” Chandan said. “One of my office mates is planning on organizing a Thanksgiving dinner and I am looking forward to attending it.

Danelle Woods, junior in LAS

Hometown: Ontario, Canada

For Woods, a member of the women’s cross country team, Thanksgiving break will not officially start until Nov. 24, the day after the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Nonetheless, she is excited about her first Thanksgiving in the U.S.

“I will be spending this Thanksgiving at my boyfriend’s family’s home,” Woods said. “I’m looking forward to home–cooked meals the most.”

Woods said her favorite Thanksgiving dishes are stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes and “lots and lots of gravy.”

Woods admits she has yet to find the biggest difference between Canadian and American Thanksgiving.

“I believe it might be football,” she said.

Yangmin Xie, graduate student

Hometown: Beijing, China

Xie said while they do not celebrate Thanksgiving back home in China, she understands the value that Americans place on the holiday.

“I think it means a lot to Americans, like spring festival to Chinese people,” Xie said.

Xie admits the only Thanksgiving staple she has sampled in her time in the U.S. so far is turkey.

“I like it not because of the flavor,” Xie said. Rather, it was the festivity aspect of the holiday meal that she enjoyed.

“It makes me feel traditional and warm, and sharing happiness,” Xie said. As for her Thanksgiving break this year, Xie said she plans on catching up with school work and research in Champaign.

Cathy Chuang, junior in Business

Hometown: Taipei, Taiwan

“As an international student, I don’t have a home in the U.S., so I’ve had to spend Thanksgivings with friends,” Chuang said. “It’s an opportune time to travel and try new things.”

Nevertheless, Chuang is no stranger when it comes to giving thanks. Recalling on each of the places that she has lived at, including Taiwan, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, India, Greece and the U.S., she said each of these places have their own version of Thanksgiving.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to celebrate all types of Thanksgivings,” Chuang said.

Despite her international experience abroad, Chuang said she looked forward to one thing that other Americans can relate to.

“Asparagus casserole and easy fluffy mashed potatoes are to die for,” Chuang said. “Not to mention the turkey.”

Chloe Xie, junior in Business

Hometown: London, England

Xie admits she is still trying to grasp the concept of taking a whole week off for Thanksgiving.

“In England, we don’t have Thanksgiving at all,” Xie said. “But I love the concept. I love the fact that friends and family get together. I love that it’s a holiday to honor tradition and history. I love the shopping opportunities. And I love all the food and wine and the fact that everyone overeats.”

She said “Harvest Festival,” a Roman tradition which she had celebrated before, is more similar to the concept of an American Thanksgiving.

“As it is, essentially, celebrated in honor of their goddess of corn,” Xie said.

“It’s all about giving thanks and showing appreciation.”

Marine Nguyen, junior in ACES

Hometown: Toulouse, France

Instead of going back home over Thanksgiving break, Nguyen plans on visiting Boston and New York City with some friends.

“We are exchange students from Europe so we want to visit these famous cities,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said that while visiting these cities, they plan to go sight–seeing and to enjoy spending time in an unfamiliar place.

“I heard a lot about these two cities. They are very famous in France,” Nguyen said. “Everybody told me to go there to see how great they are.” Nguyen said she is very lucky, because unlike other students from the same French university she is currently enrolled in, only she gets a whole week off.

“It’s a great opportunity to visit a bit more USA,” Nguyen said. “I am staying just for one semester, so i don’t have a lot of time to visit, except for the Thanksgiving break.”

James Park, junior in LAS

Hometown: Urbana, IL

Park was born in California but has lived in St. Louis, Hong Kong, Seoul and now Urbana. While he knew what Thanksgiving was, Park didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving until a few years ago.

“I always saw it in movies, but I never really experienced it myself until a couple years ago,” Park said. “For me, Thanksgiving is more about getting together with friends who also don’t have places to go. It’s more about seeing familiar faces rather than doing the whole turkey thing.”

Sarah Erxleben, senior in LAS

Hometown: Homer Glen, IL

Erxleben experienced Thanksgiving in France, where she studied for her entire junior year.

She and several other students studying abroad had a “pot-luck Thanksgiving,” and invited some of their French friends.

“We brought a couple French people to the Thanksgiving dinner and they were astounded eating turkey, and when we went around saying what we were thankful for, they thought we were praying,” Erxleben said.

“It was really interesting because to us, it’s such a normal function, but to them it was completely foreign.”

Ben Grozier, freshman in Business

Hometown: Libertyville, IL

Grozier was born in England and moved to Libertyville, IL at the age of 10. In his first year in the United States, his family didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Since then, Grozier has become fond of the American tradition.

“After the first year, we’ve gone to other people’s houses and had the turkey, potatoes and other things,” Grozier said. “We have absolutely nothing in England that is of the same significance, but I think it’s a nice holiday and I enjoy spending time with the family and eating food and hanging out for the week.”