Tuesday, January 22

International students get involved in the American traditions of Thanksgiving


(Jennie Wang/Daily Bruin)

(Jennie Wang/Daily Bruin)


Thanksgiving break can be an opportunity for American students to travel home and visit family and friends, but for international students, it is a chance to explore Los Angeles, embrace aspects of the American holiday or create new traditions with other international students.

Masahiro Yabe, the president of the Japanese Student Association and fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said that international students have limited opportunities to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“For people living in dorms there is no kitchen,” he said. “Even if they’re living in apartments they’re usually living with international students so they don’t know how to participate in Thanksgiving.”

Yabe said that international students struggle to connect with American traditions. He said he thinks they are often isolated within the comfort zone of their own international community.

“(International students) usually clump together with their own international students: Japanese students stick with Japanese students, Chinese students stick with Chinese students,” he said. “It’s usually difficult for them to get out of that sphere.”

Yabe said he thinks the best way for international students to learn about Thanksgiving is through host families who try to introduce these traditions.

“I was invited to one of these Thanksgiving lunches. … We baked the turkey together, and to the Japanese students it was a really eye-opening experience because they usually don’t eat turkey in Japan,” he said. “So it was their first time trying that and it was also their first time trying pumpkin pie.”

Elaine Pham, a first-year human biology and society student, and Sarah Bui, a first-year molecular, cell, and developmental biology student, travel home to Orange County for Thanksgiving and spend the holiday in the same way as most of their noninternational peers.

Bui and Pham said many people they know enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving by traveling home, seeing family and shopping on Black Friday.

Natsuki Hishinuma, a second-year pre-business economics student and external vice president of JSA, said that instead of the traditional celebration, she likes to spend Thanksgiving day exploring LA with her international friends.

“I have a lot of international friends here and they all want to get together on Thursday to go to Six Flags because a lot of people are going to be staying home so it’s not gonna be too crowded,” she said. “We’re probably going to go out to Korean barbecue in Koreatown for dinner after.”

Hishinuma stayed with a host family for four years while completing high school in Torrance, California, and said that prior to living in America, she had never heard of Thanksgiving.

“A lot of people in Asia don’t even eat turkey,” she said. “Even when I came here, my Japanese-American host family and I would have Thanksgiving with other Japanese people and we wouldn’t even eat turkey, we’d make chicken instead.”

Hishinuma said she thinks many Japanese students are unfamiliar with American Thanksgiving traditions because not many holidays in Japan share the same emphasis on family.

“I think it’s a very American holiday. I don’t think there’s any holiday like that in Japan where families get together,” she said. “A lot of Asian holidays are focused on couples rather than family, which I think is kind of sad – even Christmas has become a thing to celebrate with significant others, not family.”

Yabe suggested that UCLA should foster cultural exchange activities during Thanksgiving to make international students feel more included in American traditions.

“It would be nice for UCLA to coordinate with local families to open their kitchen up and see what a Thanksgiving get-together is like in the U.S. and that would not only facilitate cultural exchange but is a nice way to get together with new people,” he said.

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  • Leigh

    Masahiro Yabe’s suggestion that UCLA should coordinate with local families to open their homes to international students is right on point and the great news is, we’re already on it! For the last five years the UCLA Alumni Association and the UCLA Dashew Center have teamed up to place pairs of 2 or more students around the table for Thanksgiving dinner in homes of alumni, staff and faculty who live within a five mile radius of campus.

    Tomorrow more than 50 students will be welcomed into the homes of 24 hosts and as a person who has hosted students for four of the five years I can tell you that any awkwardness quickly fades and conversation is nonstop. Students are introduced to our uniquely American tradition and hosts are blown away by the student’s interests and pursuits. A good time is had by all.

    Additionally, the Dashew Center hosted its annual Thanksgiving dinner for international students and graduate scholars at the Center this past Tuesday night. About 100 students and family members were in attendance in addition to staff from the Dashew Center, Alumni Affairs, Advancement Services and the Parent’s Council. Everyone enjoyed a delicious meal, music and photo booth. Staff facilitated table conversations around Thanksgiving and students shared what they are grateful for.

    We all know that UCLA is an amazing institute of higher learning, but we want you to know that the Alumni Association and other dedicated staff all around campus have your back. Our job is to do everything we can to ensure that all aspects of your student experience is rich and fulfilling. Next up: Dinners for 12 Strangers, another opportunity to enjoy good food and conversation in the homes of alumni with fellow students. Look for an invitation in January and don’t miss out. You’ll be glad you did.

    Go Bruins!

    Estellaleigh Franenberg
    Creative Director, UCLA Alumni Affairs

  • Lance

    Excellent insight which points out once more that being being an international student away from home is difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at UCLA or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.