How to Survive Your First American Thanksgiving

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By this time in your first semester, you’ve probably heard American students bragging about all the turkey they are going to eat, how much they don’t want to see their weird cousins, and the Black Friday shopping deals they are planning to raid.

It if wasn’t obvious to you yet, they are talking about their plans for Thanksgiving break.

Still unsure what this American holiday is? Check out this quick history lesson about Thanksgiving.

While many American students have had flights, trains and carpools planned since August for the holiday, traveling for Thanksgiving break  for many international students can be very expensive or out of the question.

Instead, Thanksgiving Break for international students can mean two things:

1) Having a few days off of class to catch up on work, sleep or television shows and to enjoy the peace and quiet of an empty campus.

2) Taking a risk and traveling to a new friend or roommate’s hometown to celebrate this American holiday.

If you decide to stay on campus make sure you take advantage of your dining facilities Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t promise it will be as good a traditional meal, but it will give you a sense of what food is typically served for this holiday.


If you do decide to be adventurous and tag along with a friend for their Thanksgiving traditions, here are some tips:

What to pack:

Bring your own toiletries — you don’t want to have to have that awkward encounter and have to ask for toothpaste from a younger brother late at night.

Ask about the sleeping arrangements ahead of time so you know if you need to bring your own pillow, sleeping bag, etc.

Bring a variety of clothes. Some families are very casual at their dinners and wear jeans and a nice sweater, while others wear fall dresses and button downs.  Get the scoop from your friend before you pack so you don’t show up under or over dressed or even over-packed. Believe me, that is never fun and very embarrassing.

What to bring:

In the spirit of thanksgiving — giving thanks, get it? — it is always recommended to bring a house-warming gift or some type of food or dessert to the dinner, or both to show your gratitude toward the family hosting you.

A good, college, budget-friendly housewarming gift is either a nice bouquet of flowers for the mom, your favorite scent of a candle, or a traditional gift or food from one of your family’s traditions.

For the dinner, either pitch in by asking the cook (usually the mom) what you can do (ask more than once or twice, but don’t irritate her), or buy your own ingredients and make a simple dessert that everyone likes — like chocolate mousse pie!

How to act:

Going to a new friends house and  staying with them for an extended weekend can be very scary. Remember to be yourself, but also very respectful.

Clean up after yourself right away. That means putting all your toiletries away before you leave the bathroom. And don’t leave your clothes sprawled across the floor when you are getting ready.

At dinner, don’t wait to be asked to help. Offer a hand right away — either to set up or clean up.  The family will be very impressed and most likely invite you back again.


Breaking out of your comfort zone. Attending a Thanksgiving weekend in a new place takes a lot of guts, but is rewarding in many ways.

We encourage you to embrace the traditions of your friends family : Stuff your face so much so that you have to unbutton your pants, because that is what Thanksgiving in America is all about.

But remember to be polite. And always ask if they need help.

Have you gone to a friends for Thanksgiving break? Please share your experience with us in the Comments, and post on our Facebook page, thanks!

 

 

Rebecca Hankins

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