While studying abroad in Europe, journalism senior Emily Kucera attempted to find a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but had to settle for a dinner of wine and french fries. | Emily Kucera/Special to Mustang News

Emily Kucera
Special to Mustang News

Ask an American what Thanksgiving is all about. They’ll say it’s a time for reflecting on what they’re grateful for. They might even throw in something about pilgrims. Ask Alene Smith, an architecture graduate student from Jamaica, and you’ll get one word.

“Turkey,” Smith said. “What I see on TV; a big family with turkey, the rush to get the perfect turkey and lots of food.”

To Smith, the holiday is like prom or a sorority — something she has witnessed in American movies and television shows but doesn’t exist outside of the TV screen.

Graduate student Bharath Bollapu is from India. He is at Cal Poly getting his master’s degree in animal science. When asked if Thanksgiving meant anything to him, he responded, “Not at all.”

“I think it means that I will stand by my friends,” Bollapu said. “And thank you to all who have helped you in your life by giving some kind of gift.”

This Thanksgiving break, Cal Poly students will travel home with their cars loaded full of dirty laundry to celebrate the holiday with their friends and families, but what do the international students do during this five-day break from school?

Cal Poly’s academic holiday for Thanksgiving is Nov. 26-30. University Housing will still be open during the break, but housing offices will be closed.

Smith was invited to celebrate the holiday with a friend’s family in Sacramento. She said most of the other international students she knows also plan to attend the Thanksgiving dinners of friends’ families.

Many universities offer a potluck Thanksgiving dinner for international students or a program in which host families invite international students into their homes to celebrate the holiday.

Cal Poly’s International Center does not provide specific ways for international students to celebrate the holiday, but the Cal Poly International Club plans to celebrate the holiday together by hosting a potluck dinner. In addition to the classic American Thanksgiving dishes, each student is invited to bring a traditional dish from their home country.

While international students studying at Cal Poly struggle to find a meaning in Thanksgiving, Cal Poly students studying abroad face the reverse problem: They want to celebrate Thanksgiving in a country where the holiday has no meaning.

Last fall quarter, communication studies senior Ashley Ha studied abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Ha was in Madrid for Thanksgiving and said it was strange being so far away from home for the holiday.

“It was kind of sad, to be honest,” Ha said. “I was with my friends so it’s not like I was alone, but I definitely missed my family more on Thanksgiving. I’m happy that I get to spend the holiday with my family this year.”

Cal Poly business administration junior Nicole Thompson is currently studying abroad in San Sebastian, Spain.

Thompson said she plans to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner potluck-style with a group of friends in her apartment.

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, because I haven’t been able to find a butcher that sells turkey anywhere,” Thompson said. “Apparently you can request a turkey ahead of time, but I think we’re just going to go with chicken.”

Thompson said she’s excited to celebrate the holiday, but she also expects to feel the most homesick on Thanksgiving Day.

“It’s just weird, you know, Thanksgiving is such a family holiday, and it’s going to be weird knowing that my whole family is celebrating together without me,” she said. “I want to Skype them while they’re eating dinner so I can feel like I’m there.”

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