by Charles Kyungchan Min
As Thanksgiving approaches and many students head home for the holiday, a group of their international peers will experience American culture firsthand through the Thanksgiving Host Family Program run by the Friends of Davis International Center.
The program began four years ago to accommodate students and academic fellows who remained on campus for Thanksgiving, according to Hanna Hand, volunteer liaison to the Davis International Center and the director of the program. Since then, interest has steadily increased, with 31 participants last year successfully paired with hosts from the community.
“Many of them [international students] go with their roommates, of course, or other relatives or friends they have in America, but there are a few students who have nobody here,” Hand explained. “They would like to know about how Thanksgiving is celebrated, learn a little bit about it and also have a good time.”
The Thanksgiving Host Family Program is part of a larger effort sponsored by the FDIC called the American Host Family Program. Every year, 50 families take in Princeton international students and academic fellows in an effort to offer cultural exchange amongst the Princeton community, Hand explained.
“They invite the students once a month to their homes and have dinner. They celebrate birthdays or other holiday celebrations,” she said. The program is year-round, and students are paired with a new host each year. To accommodate additional student participants during Thanksgiving, the program asks other volunteers to open their homes, Hand noted.
Reverend Scott Luley, a chaplain in the Office of Religious Life, has hosted international students in his home during Thanksgiving for the past 10 years, since before the program’s inception. Last year, he and his wife hosted 12 international students.
“We have loved it so much. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic with praise in the way that the program has worked out,” he said. “We love it. They love it. We always have something to share. It’s just a fun time, and I think the program is fantastic.”
For some, the program is a great way to spend the holiday with new Princeton friends and faculty, but for others, it is a first look into one of America’s most celebrated holidays.
Mercedes M. Valmisa Oviedo, a third-year graduate student from Spain, experienced her first American Thanksgiving at the Luley house through the host family program two years ago.
“I thought it would be very nice to share this famous American holiday with an American family,” she said, adding that she had learned about it from movies, but had never experienced it.
“It’s a very warm holiday, and it was very nice to be there for many hours talking and eating pie,” she said of her experience. “They had so much food, and the whole family was there. There were many graduate students from everywhere, including China, India and other places. So it was super nice to have so many cultures.”
For Luley, the program offers students a chance to experience local culture, an opportunity they might not have otherwise. He noted he has seen statistics on students leaving America after four or five years without once being in an American home. “We just don’t want anyone to get a foreign education without having been in an American home and celebrated an American holiday,” he said.
The FDIC is accepting sign-ups for the program through Nov. 12, Hand said, and students will be assigned to hosts on a first-come-first-served basis. Interested students should contact Hand for more information.