One of the things that I noticed when I first moved to the UK was the fact that there is no such thing as a Thanksgiving tradition. As November rolls around, shops and high streets begin their transformations into Christmas wonderlands, radios start playing Christmas tunes and it’s as if November has been skipped over and December has started a month early! As one can imagine, for an American, this is quite an unnatural phenomenon! No more fall colours?! No autumn decorations?! Where are all the pumpkin-spiced food items in shops? What about the paper turkeys hanging in shop windows?! Why are people already wearing Christmas sweaters? (Fun fact: we say sweaters instead of jumpers in the USA.)
Luckily at uni, I am not the only student coming from abroad. About a week or so into November, I was packing up my bag after a lecture while speaking to a friend (who also spent many years in the States), about how this year was going to be the first of my nineteen years not celebrating Thanksgiving. Naturally, I was disappointed that I would not be able to join my family in Los Angeles to eat Turkey and pumpkin pie this season. We both concluded that this was an absolute scandal and something needed to be done! Before leaving the lecture room, it was decided that Thanksgiving was going to become a University of Exeter tradition.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that centres around gratitude and giving thanks to all the joys and wonders in our lives. It is about being in the moment and reflecting on how lucky we are to have the things that we have and know the people that we know. While this tradition originates in giving thanks during harvest time, it has evolved into a holiday that brings families together, to warm up their spirits and stomachs for the busy season ahead.
I remember looking around the table this year at dinner and realising that there were 15 different countries in my single-person flat in Falmouth: USA, UK, France, Russia, Ukraine, China, Spain, Japan, Barbados, Netherlands, India, Malaysia, and Qatar. Each person at the table was either an international student, someone who grew up in a different country, one that was raised in a family of multicultural parents, or all of the above! This is exactly what Thanksgiving is all about: bringing people together and celebrating our differences, but also celebrating what makes us so similar and our need to coexist.
Thanksgiving is also about the food. Thanksgiving CANNOT be Thanksgiving without the jaw-dropping, stomach filling, mouth-watering, artery assaulting food that takes over every sense of your mind, body and spirit. What I really mean is that a Thanksgiving feast puts Christmas dinner to shame, trust me!
Usually on Thanksgiving, the adults take care of the turkey and most of the cooking. Well, they take care of everything really. This year, it was my turn to finally understand the time and effort that goes into this feast and become the Thanksgiving host that I was destined to be! For all of you American readers out there that want to give thanks while you’re away at a university abroad, here is how to pull off a successful ‘Uni Friendsgiving.’
First of all, you are going to need to determine how many people can fit in your house or accommodation. This is key, because you will need to know how many people you will be cooking for!
Step two. TURKEY, TURKEY, TURKEY!!! Unlike in America, it is virtually impossible to find whole turkeys on sale in mid-end of November, as they are being raised for Christmastime during this period.
As a result, I had two options: contact a local farmer and request a turkey to be reared and delivered in advance, or go to Whole Foods in London, buy one and bring it all the way back to uni. Luckily, I was in London the week before Thanksgiving (coincidentally), so my option was clearly mapped out.
Fast forward to three days before the event: make sure you have all of the ingredients that you need for cooking and all of the equipment listed in the recipes that you’ve decided to follow! Create a cooking schedule so that everything is completed smoothly and on time! If your turkey recipe calls for soaking it in brine for one to two days, make sure the tub that you purchase will: (a) fit the turkey, and (b) has clips on the cover to avoid liquid spilling out through the top! (I unfortunately learned this lesson the hard way.)
Get your guests involved! Part of properly sharing this tradition with your friends is by getting them involved! Send out a list of side dishes and recipes that need to be made for the feast and make the dinner potluck style! This will save you a lot of time and lets your friends get excited about the event!
If you follow all of these steps (and watch the little video that I made about my experience), you are all set!
Thanksgiving was such a hit amongst my friends that everyone decided to make it a yearly tradition while we are still at university. They even decided to bring this tradition back to their families. It was so humbling to sit around a table filled with smiling friends that are literally from all different parts of the globe that took an evening off from stressful deadlines and commitments to enjoy each other’s company and appreciate how lucky we all are to be where we are.
Being so far from home and not being able to see my family for Thanksgiving was incredibly hard to accept, but because I am surrounded by the most amazing set of friends and people on this campus, I was able to turn my homesickness into a night that I will always remember and cherish. I feel grateful to have the ability to bring a tradition from home that is very dear to me and share it with the incredible people that I have met so far on my journey across the world.
I cannot wait to learn about the different traditions that all of my friends here partake in, whether it is wearing Christmas ‘jumpers’ before December and attending Christmas lighting ceremonies, trying different foods and dishes from different countries, or even exchanging giggles over language barriers and different colloquial terms said during conversations. Part of what makes this university so special is the ability to share bits of home with my friends, learn what the word ‘home’ means to them and to feel welcomed in a completely new place filled with people from different backgrounds.
I’d like to end this post with some ‘food for thought’ for any of you prospective international students reading this (yes, the pun was 100% intended): IT IS WORTH EVERY MILE AWAY FROM HOME, TRUST ME!
Happy Thanksgiving and may the merry holiday season begin!