Giving Thanks Around the World

Thanksgiving is a time when many VCU students travel home to be with their families to celebrate the blessings they have received throughout the year, but for International students this may be lonely time because they are far from their own families. Luckily, every year VCU places international students in the homes of area residents, faculty and students for the holiday. The program is called, “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student.”

“About 75 percent of the international students who study in the United States never enter an American home during their entire time of study here. We want to give students opportunities to be in American homes to meet Americans in the community. Our hope is that they will develop friendships, learn more about American culture,” says Pam Haney, the global student services coordinator at VCU.

“Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student” gives International students a chance to not only learn about American culture, but to share their own culture with their hosts as well. Haney adds, “Most international students come here alone. They don’t know anyone. They have left their family and friends far behind so it can be a lonely time for them being without those support networks they have in their home countries.”

Ahmad Altarifi, an International grad student from Jordan, will enjoy his third Thanksgiving in an American home this year. He has attended Thanksgiving in two different households, and he remains in close contact with the families he meets each year.

“The first time when I went, I didn’t know the story or tradition behind this holiday. I was excited because it would be a totally new experience for me,” he explains.

Altarifi has not been back to Jordan in two years. He says that meeting with other families, sharing stories and problems has made it easier for him to live here without his family. By visiting an American home, he says that he is becoming more familiar with American culture and he is able to teach his host families a little more about his own culture.

Last year, Altarifi says, Thanksgiving fell on the same day as an important holiday in Jordan called Eid al-Adha. This is a time of celebration in Jordan where families visit one another bearing gifts. There is also a traditional slaughtering of sheep on that day, and the meat is then distributed to the poor as well as friends and family members. This year the holiday will fall on November 16.

According to Altarifi the best part of the experience is, “You (have) found somebody to trust and people that trust you.” He says he would encourage other international students to participate in this program to:

• Learn about American culture

• Form new Relationships

• Teach Americans about traditions in other countries

Altarifi points out, “There is not that big of a difference.” Taking a day to give thanks goes beyond American culture, it is deeply rooted in many cultures, and it is simply a matter of taking time to open our eyes to the world. For more information regarding “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student,” contact Pam Haney at pohaney@vcu.edu or call 828-8309 by November 15.