Brandeis community opens home and heart this Thanksgiving

International students connect with Brandeis families on Thanksgiving Day

For years, Brandeis faculty, staff and alumni have opened their homes on Thanksgiving to international students who have no family or holiday plans of their own—a tradition that’s now a decade old and still going strong.

The annual Thanksgiving Host Program—which is administered through the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO)—introduces dozens of students from around the globe to the customs surrounding one of America’s most iconic holidays.

“The more students we can connect to community members, the more everyone has an opportunity to learn from each other,” said ISSO director Jodi Hanelt. “Having international students being able to see inside the homes of U.S. hosts is meaningful and has a great impact on people.”

Although all involved come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, visiting students often talk about life in their home countries. They share some of their own holiday traditions and offer their experiences of living and studying in the U.S.

For many hosts, having diverse perspectives is particularly enriching.

Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies professor Wendy Cadge opened her home up to eight students last year and plans to do so again this Thanksgiving.

Both her children—ages five and two—love to learn from the guests and discover something new about another corner of the globe.

“My kids love learning about other countries,” said Cadge. “Especially my five year old. He loves maps and traveling. In preschool last year his class was asked to talk about where they’d go on vacation and everyone said Disney World. He said Ethiopia.”

Cadge says that at her house, icebreakers like games have helped her guests feel a part of the holiday.
“In general, the guests sometimes seem nervous when they first come in, like they’re not sure about the right things to do,” added Cadge. “But after they arrive we play games and puzzles and cards, we eat and relax and everyone gets comfortable.”

Cadge added that she opens up her home with gratitude for those who did the same for her.

“I’ve been on fellowships all around the world,” she said. “I remember during my time abroad how meaningful it was for me when people invited me into their homes. This is my way of paying that forward.”

Donna Lee ’86 recently started inviting international students from her alma mater because she finds that it’s rewarding. After her mother died two years ago, Lee took it upon herself to find a new way to celebrate the holiday and give thanks.

“I remember two years ago I wanted to give back and start a new tradition, so I invited these students who had nowhere to go, and it was probably the best Thanksgiving I’d ever had,” said Lee, who is now a manager for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “It’s nice having these Brandeis students, especially since they add a different perspective to the mix.”

“It’s not just about us,” added Lee, who is planning on having three Chinese students at her home this year. “We can learn from other cultures and share ours as well.”

Categories: Alumni, General, International Affairs, Student Life

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