Miami University is holding its second annual Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner Potluck, an event aimed towards bringing together international students who can’t travel home for break and Oxford community members for a diverse collection of food, people and culture.
According to Jennifer Ward, international program coordinator and advisor who helps run the event, the Thanksgiving Dinner Potluck, which is being held Nov. 17, was a kickoff last year for the new Global Neighbors program at Miami.
“We wanted to start a new host program pairing community members with international students and so we thought holding a big event to promote it would be the best way,” Ward said. “Thanksgiving was around the corner so we thought ‘why not have a big Thanksgiving dinner potluck’?”
The event is sponsored by the Office of International Education as well as the Community Service Program for Foreign Students (COSEP), and the goal is to familiarize international students with American culture, Ward said.
“It’s definitely to introduce them to one of America’s favorite traditions of Thanksgiving,” Ward said. “We feel it’s a quintessential American holiday that truly only Americans celebrate in this fashion.”
Ward said that the community members and Miami staff and faculty are asked to bring in food that’s shared among the guests in a festive holiday setting at Talawanda Middle School.
Gowthami Rao, a second year international graduate student who attended the event last year, said it’s more than just an opportunity to enjoy the community members’ home-cooked meals and company.
“They talk about what Thanksgiving is all about and show us some slides about what the international office is trying to do for students to help them out,” Rao said. “It’s just like a good dinner, and you sit and you talk to the local people who are a part of Miami too.”
According to International Student Advisor Amy Cockrell, who is also heavily involved in putting on the potluck, students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the event and the Global Neighbors program.
“It’s a great chance for our students to learn about a very U.S. specific holiday,” Cockrell said. “It’s also a good chance for the Miami community and for the Oxford community to learn about our students and about what their cultural traditions are-it’s an exchange.”
Associate Director of Residence Life, Rob Abowitz, who joined the Global Neighbors program and was paired with several international students-agreed that the experience has been beneficial for everyone involved.
“I get to learn about [the international students’] experience and their culture, and so does my family,” Abowitz said. “I have two middle school children that get to interact with the international students.”
According to Abowitz, international students often have a have a difficult time adjusting and the Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner Potluck is another way to help them get involved.
“Sometimes [international students] struggle and they need additional support,” Abowitz said. “One of the things we’re learning or that you would predict is that international students want to come and learn about our culture and get integrated into our culture, so to that extent it’s helping.”
Rao expressed her feelings regarding what the program provides for her and other students.
“If I like something and want to explore it, I try doing it and just being a part of it,” Rao said. “That’s the reason I do most of the events with the international student organization, so that I’m not missing out on anything and I know what’s happening around me.”
According to Rao, many international students aren’t able to go home for the break, so the Thanksgiving Dinner Potluck gives them something to get excited about.
“The food is definitely [my favorite],” Rao said. “I will go there so I could speak to other students and other families and obviously I get to spend time with my host family; I haven’t seen them in a long while so I’m looking forward to that.”
According to Ward, there was a large turnout for last year’s event and if it continues to grow they may have to find a larger venue in the future.
“Last year we had about 120 people-almost split in half of about 60 international students and 60 community members,” Ward said. “We’re hoping to get close to the same again this year.”
According to Cockrell, the feedback was positive and it seemed as though the event really captured what the Thanksgiving tradition is all about.
“The community members love it, I can tell you that, they have fun,” Cockrell said. “I mean everyone enjoys eating good food and being with each other-that’s kind of the point of Thanksgiving; part of it’s to be thankful, but part of it also is just that sense of community.”
According to Cockrell, students can buy tickets for $5 at the Shriver Box Office, and community members can sign up online.
“If you’re an international student this is a great chance to relax,” Cockrell said. “It’s a stressful time of year with finals and a lot of projects and papers due and this is a nice chance to relax, get dinner, hang out with your friends and maybe meet some new friends as well.”