What is American Thanksgiving? As international students originally from Delhi, India, we were never really familiar with what Thanksgiving entailed. After living in Washington, D.C., for the past three months, we have learned that it is an occasion for family members to get together and have a hearty feast that typically includes turkey, bread stuffing, potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie.
Our first Thanksgiving was away from home and away from family. As we approached the final weeks of November 2021, we were surrounded by discussions of going home, seeing family and friends, and being so excited to finally leave Georgetown and D.C. In many of our classes when we each had to share what our Thanksgiving plans were, we heard the word “home” repeated multiple times and smiled when our classmates expressed their excitement. In these moments, however, we felt rather alone.
Although we are grateful to have close family friends around the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area and some extended family members in other states, visiting them is not the same as visiting home. Flying more than 7,000 miles away within a span of four days is simply not practical or economical, and our parents are still waiting for their visas so they could not visit at this time either.
We felt less alone after talking to our friends who are also international students planning to spend the break in the area. With a student body that is around 17% international, we realized there were bound to be several students either staying on campus for Thanksgiving break or spending the break with non-family members.
For international students, home is often very far away, across the ocean, or in our case, on the other side of the globe. Some even struggle with where they call home. We are originally from India and our grandparents and relatives are all there, but we have also lived in the Philippines for the past 10 years where our parents and friends are. As of this year, our father has a job in Bhutan, making our family even more spread out across countries.
We find reassurance and stability in the fact that Georgetown has become almost like our second home. But as Thanksgiving break drew closer, seeing our friends leave campus with suitcases, noticing the silence on the usually bustling second floor of Lauinger Library, and finally seeing the Leo’s crowd thin out definitely felt weird.
The university organized some special meal events for international students living on campus during break, and there were several student clubs such as the International Relations Club and the International Students Association that planned Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving dinners. Several on-campus food venues had special options for students living on campus too. However, Georgetown could always do better to increase its commitment to the international student population. For example, more food locations should have remained open for at least part of Thanksgiving, on limited hours, as there were no meal swipe options for almost the entirety of the break.
Now that Thanksgiving has passed, we can truly say that our first Thanksgiving was a very rewarding and enriching experience despite not being able to go home. We spent the first half of the break with family friends in Maryland. We met several of their family members, all of whom welcomed us warmly and took us in as their own children. We witnessed the lively atmosphere in the kitchen as meals were prepared throughout the day. Our family friends told us that “nobody should be alone during Thanksgiving,” and that spirit was emulated throughout our time with them. For the second half of the break, we reunited with our aunt and met our little cousin for the first time. It was nice to have some semblance of family and it was such a heartwarming experience.
We like to see Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on what you are grateful for. Gratitude is an important concept that must be weaved into all aspects of everyday life, but Thanksgiving is a good reminder to cherish and reconnect with the people, places and memories that are close to your heart. The sense of community we felt despite being away from home and our closest family is truly a remarkable part of the holiday.
Regardless of our situation, there is much to be thankful for — the family friends who have basically adopted us, and of course the great community we have found here at Georgetown. And when we hopefully finally go home and see our family members during Christmas, we will be able to appreciate them even more and cherish our time with them to the fullest extent.
To all international students out there who are pursuing an education in the United States, far away from their family and homes — we hope you had a fruitful Thanksgiving!
Anagha Chakravarti is a first-year in the School of Foreign Service and Priyasha Chakravarti is a first-year in the College.