Freshly cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, gravy and an assortment of pies lined long rows of tables in the College Avenue Student Center multipurpose room as scores of Rutgers students from all over the world flooded in to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
They came for Friendsgiving, an annual event hosted by Rutgers Global and Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA). The dinner hosted before Thanksgiving break offers the first taste of the uniquely American holiday to international students studying at Rutgers who have never experienced the tradition. It also provides an opportunity for domestic students to break bread with their international peers and share their culture.
Alejandro De Rosa and Aitana Kalis Tur, exchange students from Spain, knew about the history of the first Thanksgiving, but said they came to experience friendship and food.
“In Spain, we have many holiday traditions like lighting the advent wreath before Christmas and celebrating the three wise kings holiday in January, but nothing like Thanksgiving,” De Rosa said. “I’m really excited to try the pumpkin pie.”
“We came up with the idea of Friendsgiving five years ago as a way to bring together exchange students and study abroad students to experience Thanksgiving,” said Eric Garfunkel, vice president for global affairs at Rutgers. “The event has become a great way to celebrate the exchange partnerships.”
Biology and evolution Fulbright students, Paulina Arancibia and Javiera Norambuena from Chile shared the fascination with the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. While both have previously experienced Thanksgiving and its traditions, like watching American football, they both remain puzzled – and intrigued – by the notion of a squash-based pie.
“I remember the first time I heard of it thinking that it was unusual to make a pie out of pumpkin. We don’t have anything like this in Chile,” Norambuena said. “It’s really delicious.”
But what Arancibia and Norambeuna enjoy most about the holiday, she said, is the emphasis on friends and family sharing a meal.
That sentiment was echoed by Karen Engen, an exchange student from Norway. Though she has relatives in New Jersey and has celebrated Thanksgiving before, she most appreciates that it is about people gathering together over a meal.
“The celebration of Thanksgiving is very welcoming. It makes me feel ‘home,’ even though I’m not in Norway. In fact, I wish we had something like Thanksgiving in Norway.”
Jingjing Zhang, a student from China who just arrived in the United States last month, had tasted turkey before, but none of the other dishes that are a part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. She will have a second chance this week to have an authentic holiday experience when she spends Thanksgiving with an American host family, a gathering organized by Rutgers Global.
But there’s another American Thanksgiving tradition that has her interest piqued: Black Friday.
“I’m looking forward to finding deals at my favorite outlet stores, like Nike and Coach,” she said.
Besides the focus on enjoying the Thanksgiving feast, the Friendsgiving event included a photo booth set up for students, a craft table, booming music, and the opportunity to vote for the best photo in the annual Student Photo Contest organized by Rutgers Global as part of International Education Week that ran through Friday.