International students celebrate holidays in America

International students get advice while choosing desserts at the International Thanksgiving dinner held at the Baptist Campus Ministry on Sunday. More than a hundred students attended the free dinner, while several BCM members and WKU faculty volunteered to serve food.

Stephani Stacy

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated the free Thanksgiving dinner was sponsored by the Baptist Campus Ministry. The event was actually sponsored by International Student and Scholar Services and English as a Second Language International, and was at the Baptist Campus Ministry. The story has been corrected, and the Herald regrets the error.

Many students at WKU may associate the holiday vacations with the smell of roasting turkey, stuffing stockings, wacky relatives and the inimitable feeling of being home.

But for many of the 567 international students at WKU, a return home isn’t possible, and those students prepare themselves for an empty campus over Thanksgiving and winter breaks.

According to Tarek Elshayeb, the director of International Student and Scholar Services, the majority of the international students remain at WKU over the holiday breaks.

“Many live at (Pearce-Ford Tower), but not all. Some arrange to stay with friends during the holidays,” Elshayeb said, adding that PFT is the only residence hall on campus that is open year-round.

For many of WKU’s international students, Thanksgiving and Christmas are unfamiliar holidays. The top three native countries of WKU international students are India, China and Saudi Arabia, Elshayeb said.

Adel Alotaibi, a senior from Saudi Arabia, has been at WKU for four years and said he has arranged to stay with friends over the breaks.

“I don’t know a lot about Thanksgiving,” Alotaibi said. “I just know about the turkey.”

For some international students, winter break means the only opportunity to visit home.

Cristina Balderas, a senior from Monterrey, Mexico, said she would fly home for winter break but stayed at WKU for Thanksgiving Break. She said this would be her first time celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. She knew about the holiday before but never participated in it until this year.

“In Mexico, I knew Thanksgiving as ‘Turkey Day’ or ‘El Dia del Pollo,'” Balderas said. “It’s to say thanks to the fruits of the ground.”

Gary Pai, a junior from Taiwan, said Thanksgiving was a completely unfamiliar experience for him when he came to the U.S. seven years ago.

“It was a totally different culture for me,” Pai said.

Pai said that for him, the holiday breaks meant the opportunity to visit cities he had never seen before, like Chicago.

Elshayeb said that while WKU does not host Christmas activities over the long break, the university does provide a free trip to Louisville for the international students.

“We take them to a big mall there so they can do some shopping,” Elshayeb said.

He also said students who remain at WKU during the breaks usually have to eat off campus, but two campus organizations sponsored a free Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 21. The event, sponsored by International Student and Scholar Services and English as a Second Language International, was at the Baptist Campus Ministry.

Dubai senior Nasir Ali came to the U.S. last January and said this will be his first time experiencing the holidays in America. He said he planned to attend the Thanksgiving dinner.

“I’ll get the chance to meet more people and get a chance to talk to them,” Ali said. “It should be nice.”

Ali said he has no idea of the history behind Thanksgiving. His impression of Thanksgiving was that “people eat a lot, they get together, eat until they can’t eat anymore, then they wait and eat some more.”

The end of the year may signify the beginning of new traditions for international students who have never celebrated the winter holidays in America.

Satej Bhamare, a graduate student from India, said this will be his first time experiencing the holidays in the U.S. He, too, said he didn’t know a lot about Thanksgiving.

“I have heard people gather with their family, just like Christmas,” he said. “They have some fun … and something I heard about Black Friday?”