Thanksgiving is the time of year when Americans gather with their families and/or friends to spend time together and celebrate the things for which they are thankful. It is a celebration that is embraced nationally with no religious connotations.
At Stony Brook University, like many other American universities, teachers and students leave campus for a couple of days to rest and celebrate. But unique to SBU is the number of international students—in 2012, there were 3,611 people studying here from other countries. And for most of them, going home was not an option.
For Danli Chen, a senior from China majoring in finance and applied mathematics and statistics, being stuck on campus when everybody else is going home is one of the hardest parts of the semester.
“I’m really sad not having the chance to go home for Thanksgiving,” he said, “especially since I will not be going home for Christmas either.”
Chen is not the only one in this situation.
Junior biology major Khan Linh Pham is from Vietnam. He stayed at Stony Brook for both summer sessions and has not been home since December last year.
“I stayed here the entire summer and I must say it was pretty boring. For Thanksgiving, I am staying in NYC with two other international friends,” he said. “It is still hard to see family gathering together and being stuck here with mine away from here. Fortunately, I am going home for Christmas.”
Cassandra Dix, a junior from England majoring in biochemistry, agreed that the hardest thing about this holiday is seeing everyone go home.
“Thanksgiving doesn’t really mean anything to me so I wouldn’t think to go home for it because it has no special meaning,” she said, “but knowing everyone else gets to see their family does make me sad because I would like to see mine.”
For many international students, even though they chose to study abroad, holidays and celebrations like Thanksgiving are always a reminder of how hard it is to be in a different country.
But for Hongyu Li, a sophomore from China majoring in applied math, the hardest thing about being in America is not seeing everyone going home but rather not being able to celebrate big events from his country.
“One of the things that bothers me even more than not going home is that I can’t celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is in February,” he said. “I really don’t care about Christmas. In China, Christmas is not a holiday for family, just for fun.”
Chen agreed, saying that Thanksgiving is similar to China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, which “means family reunion and celebrating the harvest.”
It is the same thing for Jiajian Ding, a sophomore also from China majoring in economics and applied math and statistics.
“I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in China, so I don’t have any feeling about not going home to celebrate it,” he said. “Nope, my home is in China, so it is very hard for me to go back home. Usually I will stay in America for this Christmas.”
Some international students, though, already know where they will head to celebrate the American holiday and what they will be doing there.
Senior arts and journalism major Chris Woods, studying in the United States from Australia, is one of those students. Unlike many others, he was invited by an American family to share the experience.
“A suitemate invited me to his Thanksgiving dinner so I’ll be going there, but I have also been inundated with invites from other friends so I appreciate how generous everyone seems to be with this holiday,” Woods said.
“I am pretty happy to be here for Thanksgiving, and don’t mind not being home because again no one celebrates it there. It’s a little hard to be away from home but it helps when everyone’s so generous,” he continued.
At Stony Brook University, international students compose 10 percent of the undergraduate student population. Despite the distance from their families, though, these students have one thing in common—the international student community is a close-knit group of people, and many agreed that they have each other no matter what time of the year it is, where they are, or where they come from.