A Guide to Thanksgiving on Campus for International Students

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, and many college campuses offer their very own traditions and activities to help international students partake in the festivities.

For students from outside the United States, attending college far from home can have a lot of benefits. It forces you to strike out on your own and start learning the responsibilities that come with adulthood. It allows you to explore a new country and take advantage of everything it has to offer. And you’ll make friends that you might not have ever met had you stayed in your home country. But there are also some disadvantages, especially around the holidays. Traveling home can get pricey, and some students find themselves stuck on campus for Thanksgiving, a holiday many international students have never celebrated before. But don’t worry. Your Turkey Day doesn’t have to end up like this. Here's a sampling of just a few of the schools that have their very own Thanksgiving traditions to help campus-bound international students take part in the holiday’s traditions.

  • Hesston College in Hesston, Kansas, has hosted its annual Thanksgiving Weekend Celebration for the past 45 years. This year’s activities include a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, a talent show, basketball tournaments, and a two-mile run/walk with proceeds benefiting the school’s Wellness Equipment Project.
  • At Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives is sponsoring two programs this year. Members of the Classes of 1980 and 1966 who live in the New England area have offered to host international students for all or part of the Thanksgiving break. Other students who aren’t returning home for the holiday but wish to remain on campus can arrange to spend Thanksgiving dinner with a host family in South Hadley.
  • Through the Thanksgiving Dinner Program at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, members of the community are encouraged to invite international students to their homes so they can experience and participate in the uniquely American holiday.
  • The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner for students and faculty and staff who are unable to return home for the holiday. With 1,600 guests expected to attend this year, the feast at OSU is one of the largest offered on a college campus.
  • For the past several years, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, has organized its Thanksgiving Match Program, which matches students with faculty and staff who open up their homes to them for the holiday. The program “aims to serve as a cultural and educational opportunity for everyone, while filling a need for students who remain on campus.”
  • At Whittier College in Whittier, California, the Office of Residential Life hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner on campus for students, faculty and staff, and friends and family. Those who arrive a little early can enjoy appetizers and games before the main feast.
  • At Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, students who remain on campus can partake in a proper Thanksgiving dinner—turkey and all—at Driscoll, one of the dining halls. The school also encourages students to accept invitations to dinner from faculty and staff.

If you do find yourself on campus for Thanksgiving, be sure to check your school’s housing policies. Campus housing sometimes closes down entirely during the break, or you may be required to pay an extra fee in order to remain in your dorm.

If your school doesn’t host any formal Thanksgiving events, round up some fellow students who are staying in town and organize an “orphan Thanksgiving.” Spend the morning watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in your jammies and then pool your resources to create your own feast. Many stores, such as Whole Foods, offer prepared Thanksgiving meals at a surprisingly reasonable price, so you can get the feel of a home-cooked dinner without all the prep work and dirty pots and pans. Or, if you find yourself among fellow international students, ditch the turkey and mashed potatoes and ask everyone to bring a dish from their home countries. Surrounded by good food and new friends, odds are it will end up being one of the most memorable dinners of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving from CollegeXpress!

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie and CollegeXpress. She holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times, she has been an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 


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