ISSS hosts international students for annual Thanksgiving meal

Center for Global Engagement

In a celebration of gratitude and cultural exchange, JMU’s International Student and Scholar Services office hosted its annual Thanksgiving Celebration. This tradition dates back more than 10 years and aims to introduce students from diverse corners of the globe to this classic American holiday. Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and is a time for people to come together, express gratitude, and share the aspects of their life they are thankful for. Even in a very busy semester, JMU’s international student community, along with their friends and family, gathered to do precisely that.

A global gathering 

JMU’s international students come from a wide mix of backgrounds and cultures, most of which don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Therefore, to showcase the university's commitment to fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment, ISSS has made the Thanksgiving meal a long-standing tradition.

CGE staff preparing food before the event. Photo by Zachary Kulzer

According to Jonathan Kratz, ISSS director, “We’ve been doing it for a good long while. We’ve found that students really enjoy making these connections and being able to share in this traditional American holiday.” Several students who attended the Thanksgiving meal agreed with that sentiment. One of them, Maureen Malomba (’23 PhD), noted “it's an opportunity for me to try the American traditional dishes, and of course it's about also just being grateful for the season and I've come to really appreciate what it's all about.” Hosting the Thanksgiving meal is at the core of ISSS’ mission to support international students at JMU, and to create an environment where they feel comfortable.  

The Thanksgiving feast also offered a platform for cultural exchange. Students shared stories of their own customs and traditions surrounding gratitude and giving thanks. It was a unique opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences in how people express gratitude around the world. “Thanksgiving represents this opportunity of supporting, and giving, and friendship,” Kratz explained. “I think these are great values that we can share, as often times those values are reflected in other cultures, so it leads to a greater connection between the two.” Making connections and finding common ground is part of the way international students adapt to life in America. Yuyao Yang ('28) a first-year international student from China, found many similarities between thanksgiving and a festival she celebrates at home: “Based on this Festival I know more about American culture. It's really similar with the Mid-Autumn festival [in China] because they all have symbols. Like Thanksgiving is turkey, and the Mid-Autumn Festival is the Mooncake.” The values that surround Thanksgiving resonate more for her now that she has a way to connect it back to her home. This is precisely the kind of interaction that ISSS hopes to provide for international students to make them feel more welcome. 

A chef carves into one of the 12 turkeys that were served during the Thanksgiving meal. Photo by Zachary Kulzer

The feast

The centerpiece of the event was, of course, the Thanksgiving meal. Most of which was cooked and prepared by volunteers and staff from CGE, as well as other groups at JMU who support international students. All of the traditional dishes were served: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Many of the international students were tasting these things for the first time. The goal was simply to recreate the meal that American families eat on Thanksgiving so students could get a taste of what the holiday is like, literally! 

International students being served traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Photo by Abby Saunders

A crucial part of any Thanksgiving meal is sharing it, which is why ISSS went to great lengths to invite as many people as possible. International students comprise more than just undergraduates. In fact, graduate students make up a large portion of the international population, and they often have families of their own. Graduate student Jalal Maqableh (’23 PhD) was very appreciative of this: “Any food prepared with love is good. You know, as an international student, I'm thankful for the opportunity to be at JMU and also to have a community that cares about each other. Having also the opportunity to bring my family and to join this gathering.” Echoing this sentiment, Kratz joked “We earn their love through their stomachs,” and with over one hundred people in attendance, there was a lot of love to be shared.  

International students and their friends gather around a table to eat their Thanksgiving meal. Photo by Abby Saunders

A lasting impression 

The Thanksgiving feast was more than just a meal; it was a celebration of diversity, unity and gratitude. It showcased the power of coming together and appreciation for different cultures. Kratz was most thankful for the support of the JMU community to pull off the event, saying “The Graduate School has been extremely helpful, the International Study Center with Study Group has been extremely helpful, and our folks in the Center for Global Engagement have always come through. It’s a really nice collaborative effort in support of our International students.” A strong group effort was evident as many volunteers stayed late to clean up, and share a few more stories as they finished off the last jug of apple cider.

As the event gradually came to a close, there was time for some reflection. Students from all corners of the globe had come together to share in the spirit of Thanksgiving, creating lasting memories and connections. It was a day that reminded everyone of the importance of gratitude and the power of unity. I’m thankful for being able to contribute” Maqableh said, ”To participate, to hear people, to be heard, to be part of this community. I'm very thankful for this.” As international students left the event with full stomachs, they carried with them a newfound appreciation for the JMU community, and the traditions they had shared in this memorable celebration of Thanksgiving.

One last trip through the line. Photo by Abby Saunders


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by Zachary Kulzer

Published: Friday, December 1, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, May 2, 2024

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