Nov. 17, 2022
Thanksgiving banquet brings together international students and community members
More than 100 people attended the Global Education Office’s Thanksgiving celebration for international students to connect with each other over classic holiday food.
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This week more than 100 people filled the Commonwealth Ballroom of the University Student Commons for the Global Education Office’s Thanksgiving celebration for international students. The room was packed with a mix of students and community members sharing in conversation and pecan pie.
Nichole Dorton, the Global Education Office’s student engagement and programming manager, said it was the second year they have held the dinner. The prompt to start the gathering was COVID. Previously, the office had helped international students get placed with American host families to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. The pandemic kept students from being able to go into homes and so the program was put on hiatus. Last year, Dorton said they started the banquet to bring students together and invited community members who could not host people. Now, GEO has decided to make it an annual event.
Guests at the banquet were assigned numbers that corresponded with their table. Dorton said this was to encourage students to break out of their shells and get to know others.
“I really enjoy helping our international students connect with people they wouldn’t normally hang out with as well as our community members – just helping them form new connections,” Dorton said.
Abdulla Alremeithi, a student from the United Arab Emirates studying homeland security in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, said he came to meet new people. There were eight students at the table, and he said they found common interests to discuss. For example, one of the students is studying marine life and Alremeithi is a scuba diver.
“There were interesting conversations,” he said.
Sophia Field, a VCU student who volunteered at the event, said she heard about it while hanging out with some Shimane University students from Japan who are currently studying at VCU. Field said only she and one other person at her table grew up with Thanksgiving, so it was interesting sharing their experiences while getting a perspective on the holiday from people who only saw it on TV.
“It's kind of cool getting that non-American insight on our holiday,” she said.
This is not GEO’s only Thanksgiving initiative for students. For the holiday, they have also coordinated for international students to be assigned to local families again for fall break. This is a soft relaunch of the program after the pandemic, according to Dorton.
“I absolutely love the success stories when students really make friends with American families, and I get to hear about them connecting and traveling together, or just their weekly or monthly dinners together,” she said.
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