In keeping with tradition, the Yale Office of International Students and Scholars will match foreign students with local hosts for Thanksgiving dinner this year.
The office has run the program “Thanksgiving at Home” every year since 2001. It connects international students, visiting research assistants and other Yalies from overseas with alumni, faculty and staff who sign up to host a Thanksgiving dinner. The OISS matched 60 international students and scholars with hosts last year and hosted its own Thanksgiving dinner in 2014 and 2015.
Although OISS does not plan to organize a separate dinner this year, the office has seen an increasing number of volunteer hosts for the “Thanksgiving at Home” program and expects to accommodate more interest.
“We connect our very diverse population of international students and scholars at Yale and have them experience Thanksgiving the way it should [be experienced],” said Maria Gutierrez GRD ’13, program coordinator and OISS assistant director for programs. “It’s a beautiful thing to reach out and invite others.”
According to Gutierrez, the office has reached out to potential hosts and heard back from groups including heads of different colleges and the Yale Club of New Haven. The OISS will soon extend an invitation to all international undergraduate and graduate students at Yale, she added.
After the OISS advertises the program to international scholars through its newsletter, social media and email, interested participants will fill out a survey to specify dietary restrictions and transportation needs, as well as give information about academic interests. Interested hosts fill out a similar survey providing both logistical and personal information.
Alison Bonds, operations manager at the Yale Stem Cell Center and a “Thanksgiving at Home” participant since 2008, said one of the program’s strengths is its ability to match scholars and hosts with similar interests. The program is also an opportunity to discuss different cultures and learn about guests’ views on the United States, Bonds added.
Andrea Cable, a reimbursement analyst at the Yale School of Medicine and a host for “Thanksgiving at Home,” said her Thanksgiving dinner last year was “like the United Nations” in its diversity. She said she is still in touch with the international scholars she hosted in the past.
“It’s nice to have those ties all over the world,” Cable said. “The world is little, and [given] all the strain happening now, getting to know somebody from a different culture helps make the world a little better.”
Many hosts are also involved in Community Friends, a program OISS reintroduced this year, whose goal is to integrate international students into American culture, as well as to provide the opportunity to form friendships. This year, the OISS has matched 32 international freshmen with alumni and other members of the Yale community as part of Community Friends.
According to Gutierrez, many participants of Community Friends will host their own students as guests.
Suzanne Cooney ’85, who has been a Community Friend for several years, said this year she will be hosting her two students through the program. Cooney added that she enjoys learning about international students’ perspectives on American life.
“I find [getting to know international scholars] educational and enlightening because they are bright, interested in things and happy to be at Yale,” she said.
Celine Yeap ’19, who is from Malaysia, participated in “Thanksgiving at Home” last year. She said hosts “genuinely want you to feel at home” and that she enjoyed the experience overall. Yeap said she is still in touch with her host family and recommends the program to international students who want to experience an American Thanksgiving and get to know members of the community.
“I’ve experienced the best of the best of this program. OISS does a very good job in finding those families who really want to get to know more international students at Yale,” Yeap said.
However, of three international freshmen interviewed, none had heard of the program. Yeap said she feels that not many students know about “Thanksgiving at Home,” and that advertising for the program can be improved.
According to Gutierrez, the OISS is working to increase awareness of “Thanksgiving at Home.” In addition to the organization’s newsletter, which reaches between 8,000 and 10,000 international members, the OISS is using social media to advertise “Thanksgiving at Home,” especially to reach younger international students.
“We’d love for the Yale community to embrace the program, and for more people to welcome students and scholars that may be staying in the area during Thanksgiving break,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a great way to share our culture, and for students and scholars to strengthen their ties to our community.”