Today, hundreds of miles west of Plymouth Rock and nearly 400 years after the inaugural event, the International Buddy Program at the University of Minnesota hosts its own Thanksgiving meal. The event is, for many of the international students, their first taste of the holiday that is celebrated with family and thanks in the United States.
The International Buddy Program, an International Student and Scholar Services program which matches new international students with current domestic/international students who are their peer mentors, has been bringing Thanksgiving to campus for over 20 years. The dinner began after former program leader Jon Askelson planned a meal for students who lived too far away to make a trip home for the holiday. The first dinner attracted fifty students and provided a unique cultural experience, giving attendees the opportunity to help prepare Thanksgiving staples such as turkey and dressing. It became a tradition.
Today, the International Buddy Program is preparing for its 22nd dinner. The event has grown from a small gathering into a lively celebration. Nearly 300 attended last year’s dinner in Coffman Union, and they enjoyed a catered meal and live entertainment from a student a cappella group and the Korean rapping club.
International Buddy Program Coordinator Tram Vu (a junior in the Carlson School of Management) hopes that this year’s event will continue to provide attendees with an experience that combines tradition with a cultural twist.
“[The International Buddy Program] tries to create the most authentic experience for international students possible by providing a full course Thanksgiving dinner and incorporating traditional activities such as giving thanks, performances, and speeches. We also try to put international feeling into the event,” Vu said.
While Vu and the rest of the International Buddy Program board works on securing this year’s entertainment, group advisor Hussain Bandy is in charge of arranging food for the event. While the meal was originally prepared by students, it is now catered by Kafe 421. Bandy ensures all of the traditional foods are present at the dinner.
"We get turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, salads... there were cranberries one year and green bean casserole another,” Bandy recalls. “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday so I want to make sure the food is right.
Perhaps the most meaningful part of the event for students has been the sense of thankfulness and community the dinner cultivates.
Barbara Kappler, the Assistant Dean of International Student and Scholar Services, has been helping with the event since its early years, excited to bring students together to share food, stories, and thanksgiving. It just so happens that the dinner provided Kapler herself with something extra to be thankful for: it was the first Thanksgiving she spent with the person she would marry - an international graduate student who was also helping make the dinner.
Kappler now attends the dinner with her husband and their two children. Each year they teach the international students the message of thanks they say before their own Sunday dinners: “We are thankful for being here. We are thankful for being here together.”
Vu, a Vietnamese international student, understands how it feels to be far from home and the important role community plays in easing the transition to campus. She and the board remember as they plan the event.
“During the Thanksgiving, we try to first create a community so international students feel like they belong here on a really big campus,” Vu said.
She recalls a note the IBP board received from a program alumni saying that Thanksgiving was the moment that they connected to their first American friends.
“Thanksgiving was the event where they really built connections on campus,” Vu said. “That was a really good compliment for us because that’s what we’re striving for.”
This year’s dinner will be held on November 20. More photos can be seen on IBP's Facebook page.
Date Published: November 2016