OISS implements first Thanksgiving dinner program
International students have different options to explore if they want to celebrate Thanksgiving. For instance, students could stay on campus and eat at one of MSU’s dining halls — or they could visit an American home to fully experience Thanksgiving dinner traditions, thanks to a new program.
Lauren Thams, a student affairs administration student working on her master’s degree, said she is excited for the first iteration of the program. Thams — also a programming and communications intern for the OISS — said it’s a way for American families to open their homes to different cultures for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
“There’s turkey and a lot of traditional dishes and also an opportunity for international students and scholars to share with their hosts about their own cultures,” Thams said.
OISS Assistant Director Elizabeth Matthews, who had a similar program at one of her previous jobs, talked more about the dinner.
“A lot of times international students have a hard time gaining opportunities to go out into the community outside of the MSU campus and experience what a typical American family’s life is like,” Matthews said. “MSU really wanted to be able to provide that opportunity for students and scholars here to be able to do that in East Lansing.”
All international students and their families can apply for the dinner. If an international student has a partner or children in Michigan, they’re also able to apply for the program.
Hosts and participants sign up in different applications, then the OISS facilitates the process of matching hosts to participants.
OISS Student Engagement Coordinator Vicky Lee became Thams’ consultant on the program, thanks in part to her experience running a similar program.
Lee said there were about 60 participants registered at the end of October, with up to 100 available participant slots in total.
Hosts can decide how many people they want to invite. That number can range from two to six, but the OISS tries to keep the number at about four.
“This is the first year, so we don’t know how it’s going to go. But in terms of the response rate, we are happy about it so far and a lot of faculty and staff members have shown a lot of interest, although they might not be able to host this time,” Lee said.
Lee said students might go to their professor’s house and build a connection outside of the classroom. When the professor is hosting the students, stereotypes surrounding American professors could be broken.
“That professor is not only the one teaching you, but you can go share some personal stories with him or her if you need to,” Lee said. “It’s really not only about ‘Oh, I know this professor through a classroom,’ but ‘No, I actually know her in person. I know that she is a very nice person and I know that she has my back or he has my back,’ and I think that is the beauty of the program.”
One of the difficulties of navigating this program is transportation. In the application, there are questions for participants to answer: Do they have cars? If they do, are they willing to drive others?
“If they happen to be a driver with a car, we would try our best to match those people with no car with at least one person with a car, then they can drive to their host’s place together,” Lee said. “If not, then we just have to come up with an alternate solution.”
Though the program is only for one night, the OISS encourages participants and hosts to retain the connections they make after it.
The dinner is Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22. Hosts will contact interested participants directly.
“Because this is the first year, we’re starting small, but even with a small set of matching, I think it’s gonna make a big impact,” Thams said. “I would presume that the students and the hosts will stay in touch with each other over the course of the year.”
The point of the dinner program? To allow students to feel welcome and supported in the community, Thams said.
“It’s just a feeling of comfort and welcome,” she said. “That’s really important.”