'Home' is where the Turkey is

UB faculty members and their families host 56 international students for Thanksgiving

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For Sushobhna Batra, Thanksgiving Day used to consist of microwavable meals and studying. But this Thursday, she will have a home-cooked meal in the company of a UB family.

The Office of International Student and Scholars Services and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are hosting their first inclusive Thanksgiving. UB faculty and staff members have volunteered themselves and their families to host at least two international students each for Thanksgiving dinner.

This Thanksgiving is the program’s “inaugural” year, said Chris Bragdon, the Office of International Students and Scholars Services international student advisor. There will be 19 host families and 56 students participating in the program. UB faculty members and students interested in hosting students for the holiday were sent a survey through the Office of International Students and Scholars Services.

Batra, a junior biochemistry and biological sciences major, said she will always spend her breaks at UB and being a part of a traditional Thanksgiving celebration makes her feel “warmly embraced by the American culture.”

Teresa Miller, vice provost of equity and inclusion, also knows what it’s like to be an exchange student during the holiday season. Miller was an exchange student in the Middle East as an undergrad and in Germany for law school.

Her experience of spending the holidays with someone else’s family is why, for the past six years, she’s been hosting students for Thanksgiving dinner.

Miller said she and the Office of International Students and Scholars Services chose to start the program at such a small scale because she wants the program to grow into a tradition.

“When you grow a tradition, you have to grow a feeling,” she said. “[We] don’t want to put something on a large scale that doesn’t have the type of character and quality that we’re looking for.”

Bragdon said for many participating students, this Thanksgiving is the first time they have celebrated with an American family and many of them are nervous.

“They’re asking ‘What should I wear and should I bring a gift?’ so part of it is putting them at ease,” Miller said. “No gift is expected and wear something comfortable. No, it isn’t a dress-up event and there are children crawling all over the place.”

To put students and host families at ease the Office of International Students and Scholars Services and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion created culture-grams for students and hosts. Culture-grams will give host families more background information on where the students are from and what the culture is like in their home country. Students are also given a culture-gram with a map of the United States, pinpointing where the host families are from.

“The idea is to stimulate conversation and sharing, sharing the experiences,” Miller said. “I remember being an exchange student and how difficult it was being the sole object of people’s attention, so it really helps with communication and that one student not asked to carry the conversation by themselves.”

Unlike Miller, this Thanksgiving is the first time Michael Koziej, senior associate director of Campus Living, will be hosting a student.

“I look at this as a perfect opportunity for us to open our home to those who are so far away from their families,” Koziej said. “I have three children at home, so I am also looking at this as a great opportunity for them to meet new people from other countries and to be introduced first hand to someone with different cultures and customs.”

He’s hosting May Elbanna, a medical Ph.D. student from Egypt as well as her child and spouse.

“When I told my kids that we will be hosting someone from Egypt, my two older kids went online and started to learn all about the country so they could talk to them about their home country,” he said.

Miller said the inclusive Thanksgiving program is the university’s way of making “a long-term commitment to grow this type of inclusive interaction around a very American holiday.” She said she hopes this program will foster life-long friendships between faculty and students.

She is still in touch with one of the partners she worked with at a law firm in Germany. Miller has taken her kids to visit her old colleague’s family in Germany.

Miller said she hopes inclusive Thanksgiving will “craft an experience that is fulfilling for both the host families and the students, then there’s something to grow” with a “good-feeling” quality.

email: news@ubspectrum.com