Although many other cultures have a similar-themed celebration, U.S. Thanksgiving presents international students with a question more basic than which set of grandparents to have dinner with. Often, there’s a question of celebrating at all.
Yuka Daimon is putting more effort than most into having a traditional Thanksgiving. She will fly cross-country to spend the holiday with her boyfriend and his family in Kentucky. She’s excited about seeing her boyfriend for the first time in a year – they met when he was an international student in her hometown of Osaka, Japan – and nervous to meet his parents. Learning the back-story of the Pilgrims’ survival just isn’t the main focus of the holiday.
Others without set plans still have to pick between their several options for recognizing the holiday. Reijiro Wakatsuki, a senior in marketing from Tokyo, said, "I just haven’t decided yet."
It’ll be little more than another weekend for Seho Park, an electrical engineering student from Korea. Last year, he said, the highlight of Thanksgiving wasn’t the turkey he ate but a friend’s party. Once the library is open again, he will be back studying on the fifth floor, where it is quiet, Park said.
With its tendency to focus on family togetherness, Thanksgiving can also serve to remind students away from families of their own traditions and holidays.
Though this is his fourth Thanksgiving, Eddy Tung doesn’t plan to celebrate. The pre-pharmacy student came to the United States from Taiwan in 2001. What he misses, he said, are the Chinese New Year celebrations at home.
Park said he missed celebrating familiar holidays as well, including the Korean Thanksgiving last month.
Instead of the traditional meal with rice cakes, he said, "I called my mother. That’s it."
Some Portland residents and institutions try to include students who wouldn’t otherwise celebrate. There is a Thanksgiving Potluck in the West Hall Lounge from 4 – 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Out-of-town and international guests at Northwest Portland International Hostel can celebrate at its potluck. The hostel provides turkey, and asks guests to bring side dishes or donate money, employee Britta Diettrich said.
"Many people know it’s Thanksgiving, but don’t have a good idea of what the traditions are," Diettrich said. "We usually talk about what families do."
International students and travelers "find out the hard way that everything’s closed," Diettrich said. She suggests that students who can travel visit the hostel in Seaside, which is having a similar potluck and has more room for guests.