Three Brookdale students carved into their first American Thanksgiving this year by joining Brookdale employees in their homes as part of a new, college-wide “Thanksgiving Dinner Host Program.”
International students Karen Suazo, Farina Wong and Irene Yang were invited to spend the holiday with Brookdale faculty, staff and their families, sampling traditional foods and experiencing unique holiday traditions for the first time.
Wong and Yang, who arrived in the U.S. in August and are currently studying English as a Second Language (ESL), spent Thanksgiving with International Education Center (IEC) coordinator Lucyna Wadych-Ketley and her family.
“It was very exciting and comfortable,” said Wong, of Hong Kong. “Their friends and family were interested in talking about my culture and hobbies. I only knew a little bit about Thanksgiving beforehand, but I thought it was good to see everyone sitting down together for a meal.”
“The food was very good,” added Yang, of China. “It was my first time having turkey, actually. We don’t have a celebration like that in China, so it was a good experience for us. I loved being able to go to Lucy’s house and spend time with them.”
Suazo, a business administration major from Honduras, said she didn’t celebrate her first American Thanksgiving in 2016 because she has no family in the U.S. This year, she said, she jumped at the opportunity to spend the holiday with associate education professor Ave Latte and her family.
“I am here by myself, so this was the first time I had the chance to know more about American culture and how they celebrate Thanksgiving,” said Suazo, who came to the U.S. in 2016. “It was the most wonderful experience that I have had in my time in America. It was very special for me. I spent the whole day with them, and they cooked vegetarian food just for me and even showed me how to cook their recipes on my own… They welcomed me like family, and they were so amazing to me. I love my college.”
The holiday hosting initiative, coordinated through the IEC, was spearheaded by assistant mathematics professor Nathalie Darden. The goal, Darden said, was to create a warm, welcoming environment for some of the college’s nearly 160 international students and help them stave off homesickness during the holiday season.
After working with international students at Brookdale and once studying as an international student herself in Paris, Darden said she was acutely aware of the loneliness and longing students can experience while living and working so far from home.
“As a student in Paris I felt homesick at times, and I also recognized and appreciated being surrounded by family and exposed to the French culture and foods, which added to my experience during that year,” said Darden. “This is why I decided to create the Thanksgiving Dinner Host Program, so Brookdale can share one of our holidays unique to the United States with our international students.”
While the students were grateful to experience their first Thanksgiving in America, their Brookdale hosts said they had just as much to be thankful for following the inaugural Thanksgiving Dinner Host Program.
“My Thanksgiving is already international: my husband is from England, I am from Poland, we have a lot of friends from different countries, so usually the only American-born people sitting at the table are my children,” said Wadych-Ketley. “We do not have family in the U.S., so on that day we like to invite people who are in a similar situation to us so we can create our own international family at our house.
“Our guests enriched our celebration and made it extra special for both adults and children,” she added. “During the dinner we talked about celebrations in their countries – what they usually eat for the Chinese New Year, the presents they give, the symbolic meanings of many things in Chinese culture, and things like that. We spoke a lot about languages as well, and we even tried to learn a little bit of Chinese.”
Latte said she was excited to share her Italian family’s Thanksgiving traditions with Suazo, including a variety of vegetarian-friendly pasta dishes and sides. Suazo and Latte also found common ground in one item deemed absolutely essential to both Italians and Hondurans: coffee.
“When Karen shared how important coffee is to her family and country, it was a lovely bonding moment,” said Latte. “It’s a ritual in my family to serve espresso, and with her as well. I felt very proud that she loves my coffee.
“It was a wonderfully fun day,” she added. “We love Karen, and we always want her to come back. In fact, we’ve already invited her to our Christmas celebrations. So the story continues.”
Darden and the IEC plan to continue to Holiday Hosting initiative next Thanksgiving. To volunteer as a host or to learn more, click here.
View more photos of the Thanksgiving guests and hosts here.