Exchange students to experience American Thanksgiving
The Holiday/Home Dinner Program is offering 17 international students a chance to spend a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with host families composed of University students, faculty and alumni.
There are more guests and host families this holiday season, said Carissa McCarthy, an international student adviser.
Fifteen international students participated last year along with nine hosts. But this year the number of hosts increased to 10, McCarthy said.
“The hosts and the students both really enjoy it, and as a result the program is growing,” she said.
Pat Iurilli, an alumnus who graduated in 1984, said he and his family have hosted six to 10 exchange students at their home every Thanksgiving since 1995.
“International students are only in America for about a year and a half usually,” he said. “In that time approximately 75 percent of them never even enter an American home.”
Iurilli’s family prepares 10 different dishes and shares personal American and Italian traditions with their guests each year, he said. Besides preparing customary Thanksgiving dishes of turkey, corn and pie, he said his family has other less common traditions.
“My family is Italian — one Italian tradition is to crack nuts, like walnuts or peanuts,” Iurilli said. “We do this with the international students and it’s great. The shells go flying all over the place.”
Since Thanksgiving is unique to the United States, Iurilli said it is a perfect chance for hosts and guests to swap cultural nuances.
Olga Kozlova, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she is still in touch with the student her family hosted last year.
“I had a junior from South Korea come over for dinner, and I hadn’t known her at all beforehand,” she said. “Even though she’s back in South Korea now, we still talk.”
Kozlova and her family not only invited the exchange student over to their house for Thanksgiving dinner, but also took her Black Friday shopping at Garden State Plaza the following day.
“She really seemed to enjoy it,” she said. “She asked us a lot of questions, and we told her a lot about American culture.”
As Kozlova’s family did their shopping, she said they also learned a few things about South Korean culture from their guest.
Iurilli, who has hosted students from China, Africa and South America, said his guests always add another element of culture to Thanksgiving.
“We get as much out of it as we give to the students,” he said.
Soyoon Yim, an international student who has attended the University for three semesters, said she plans to take part in the program for the first time this Thanksgiving.
Yim, who previously attended Dongguk University in South Korea, said if it were not for the dinner program, she would be spending Thanksgiving alone.
“I didn’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone,” she said. “The Thanksgiving program seems like a great opportunity to meet new people.”
Along with organizing the program during Thanksgiving, the International Friendship Program also organizes a similar program during Christmas, McCarthy said.
“I learn so much from them,” he said. “I hope that by sharing as much of my own culture with them as they do with me, I can make their time here special.”