The smell of gravy and freshly sliced turkey wafted warmly through the Armstrong pavilion last Thursday. People from dozens of different countries sat down to enjoy a hearty Thanksgiving dinner.
All around the room, trays of Thanksgiving food had been set out — mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, apple pie and more — though they all failed to catch people’s eyes as well as the giant turkey that was proudly displayed on a table all its own.
The event, the seventh annual Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner, had brought roughly 300 people to Armstrong’s ballroom, and the environment was bustling with friendly conversation and delicious food.
The dinner was hosted by Miami’s International Student and Scholar Services, with the goal to provide international students with a chance to experience a traditional American Thanksgiving, and to allow them to form deeper connections with the local community.
Coming to the event for her third time, Oxford resident Nicki Russell said that she thinks the event is a wonderful chance to bring all sorts of people together.
“I love coming out and seeing all the different kinds of people just having a good time together,” she said.
People were certainly having a good time. As a live guitarist strummed tunes such as “Old Time Religion” and “Brown Eyed Girl,” people mingled eagerly. At every table, a sheet of name tags was set out so attendees could more easily get to know their table mates.
Gathered around a single table, an elderly couple, a professor from the business school and her two young children and two international students — one from China and one from Albania — chatted casually about their lives.
The couple, Margaret and Joe Suttman, have strong ties to both Miami and its international community. Over the years they’ve traveled to China themselves, hosted 11 international students and had their own child graduate from Miami. They attend the event whenever they’re in town to support Miami’s efforts to bring the local and international communities together.
As the table talked about school, work, travel and a variety of other topics, one of the business professor’s young children, Gavin, occasionally stole the spotlight. From an intense quest for candy corn and claims that he was, in fact, 100 years old, to his dinner consisting entirely of four huge buttered rolls, his antics repeatedly brought smiles to the faces of those at the table.
Molly Heidemann, associate director of the ISSS, coordinated the night’s event.
“We thought that it’d be nice to celebrate Thanksgiving with our students,” Heidemann said. “The holiday is centered around togetherness, so we thought: ‘let’s try to bring the international students together with the community.’”
Although it hasn’t always been held in Armstrong — starting at the local middle school and relocating to a more convenient on-campus location — the dinner has always brought people out en masse, with around 300 attendees every year since it began.
Molly says that the dinner provides people with an outlet and an opportunity to connect with each other and to develop connections with people from other cultures. That sort of connection isn’t always common in everyday life, but it was apparent at the dinner, as people from all walks of life talked, laughed and enjoyed a meal together — all in the spirit of Thanksgiving.