It was a record year for the Center for International Studies and Programs’ fifth annual Thanksgiving host program: 30 families invited 80 students to their homes to celebrate the traditional American dinner.
“The results of the presidential election left many with feelings of anxiety,” said Dr. Sammy Spann, assistant provost for international studies and programs. “Even with the uncertainty in the air, we were able to triple the number of families and students participating in the program this year.”In 2012, nine families hosted 12 international students. The program has grown each year.
“This gesture displays the great unity of our community, the appreciation of diversity, and willingness to open our hearts and homes to individuals of different cultures,” Spann said. “The Center for International Studies and Programs is committed to providing more events that help bridging cultures together.”
Xinren Yu, international program coordinator in the Confucius Institute, said more families asked to host students after the registration deadline, and he worked to accommodate as many requests as possible.
“It really shows that our community is very receptive and welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds,” Yu said.
According to Yu, a lot of the students end up having closer relationships with their families after participating in the program.“Students have the opportunity to have a real Thanksgiving experience and learn about American culture and the traditions,” Yu said. “It’s also a great time to make new friends and bond with an American family.”
Kate Abu-Absi, outreach and retention specialist in the College of Arts and Letters, hosted eight international students.
“In the world today, there are a lot of people who are being discriminated against, and I want our students to always feel that UT is their home away from home,” she said.
Abu-Absi said she had such a great time at Thanksgiving she plans to invite international students to celebrate other holidays.
“Everyone got a plate, and we pulled our chairs into the family room and sat in a big circle and talked about what we are thankful for,” she said. “We laughed, shared stories about family and friends, ate way too much, and had a blast.”
Cheryl Thomas, executive assistant in the Center for International Studies and Programs, and her husband, Dave, continue to open their home.
“My husband and I have been hosting international students for several years now. The cultural bonding, friendship and fun is what keeps us doing it year after year. Of course, my husband is a wonderful cook, too,” Thomas said. “We are very honored and thankful to have these students in our lives, so what better way than at Thanksgiving to share just what that means with them.”
Inmaculada Zanoguera, a graduate assistant from Spain, shared Thanksgiving dinner with the Thomas family.
“Good company, good vibes and good food — there is nothing like getting together in celebration of such a cheerful holiday to remind us how privileged we are to be here,” Zanoguera said. “I think I speak for all international students when I say that having a family selflessly open the doors of their home for us isn’t just a thoughtful invite, but a great honor for which we are deeply thankful. We sincerely appreciate all of the host families who participated in the program.”
“Getting to see all the happy and excited faces of students who have never experienced Thanksgiving makes this one of my favorite events all year,” said Tyler Mattson, graduate assistant in the Center for International Studies and Programs. “The students always leave stuffed to capacity and excited to have been a part of an American holiday.”