Many international students attending the University of New Mexico are familiar with the concept of Thanksgiving learned from American films, television and the Internet. In the United States, Thanksgiving has become more a secular holiday, one that embraces all religions and cultures. But far from home and family, what will some of the 1,500 students from 99 countries currently enrolled at UNM do for Thanksgiving?
Yanzhu Chen and her friend Xi Ba are Chinese students from Beijing, both juniors studying finance. “We have been invited to go to church with people from the International Studies Institute, where we will have our first Thanksgiving dinner,” Chen said. “We are looking very forward to tasting a traditional thanksgiving meal.”
According to China Highlights, celebrating Thanksgiving is catching on in China. Though mainly celebrated by Americans and Canadians who live in China, some local teachers have taken to teaching students about the concept of giving thanks for what one has. Apparently, the Chinese are the only people other than North Americans who celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.
"I am thankful that I have seen the colors of fall in New Mexico. It is interesting, how they reflect the colors of Thanksgiving food: turkey, sweet potatoes, cornbread and cranberry sauce..." Freirer said.
Jessica Amezquita is from Peru, studying English through UNM’s Center for English Language and American Culture (CELAC) program. While studying here, she met and married an American man and now plans to remain in the U.S. “We are going to celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. My mother-in-law is coming from Wisconsin and she’s going to do some cooking. I really look forward to having traditional Thanksgiving food,” she said.
Brothers Hirbod and Farbod Norouzianpour are from Iran, both graduate students in the School of Architecture and Planning. When they arrived a year ago, the UNM Global Education Office placed them with a host family for whom they said they have cultivated a lifelong bond. “Even though we live on our own now,” Farbod said, “we stay in touch with them. They invited us for Thanksgiving Day, and we look forward to eating a traditional home cooked meal with our second family.”
Americans think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely homegrown tradition. But other nations around the world celebrate a similar type of holiday. Iran, for instance has a Thanksgiving holiday called Mehreganis. The word "Mehr" in the Persian language means kindness, and represents knowledge, love, light and friendship. Mehreganis is one of the most ancient Iranian festivals, dating back at least as far as the earliest Aryans (Iranians). Considered one of the most important days of the year, it is a day to express love and gratitude to individuals that are meaningful in one’s life.
Ursula Freire was born in Hungary but lives in Ecuador. They have nothing comparable to Thanksgiving in either country. Freire, currently at UNM doing her doctoral work in architecture and geography, said that she likes the idea of taking one day to say thank you for what you have and what you have been given.
Freire has been invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a UNM staff member for which is thankful. “I will have the chance to share this holiday with Americans, and I hear Hungarians will be there, too,” she said. “I am also thankful that I have seen the colors of fall in New Mexico. It is interesting, how they reflect the colors of Thanksgiving food: turkey, sweet potatoes, cornbread and cranberry sauce. Ecuador is at the equator. We don’t experience autumn in this way.”
The presence of international students at UNM enriches the learning experience of all students. Significant and meaningful interactions, on and off campus, is central to the notion of how diversity affects and enhances not only learning, but opens the mind to how dull the world would be if we were all the same.