The Trine University International Thanksgiving was held Nov. 17. The annual event is one of the highlights of our year as it gives us the opportunity to gather with our students, colleagues and friends from around the world to enjoy an evening of reflection, thanks and good food.
Our event corresponds with International Education Week, which takes place at institutions across the United States. International Education Week, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Education, promotes the programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and that attract students from around the world to study and learn in the U.S.
International Thanksgiving is a fitting occasion for us to pause from our busy schedules, gather and give thanks to all the members of our community.
I’ve explained to our students that the Thanksgiving holiday is a favorite among Americans. Why is that? Many of our holidays are so commercialized that we are overwhelmed by advertisements and the pressure to “shop ’til we drop.” Events such as our birthdays are occasions to receive gifts. This is not true in all cultures. For example, Nov. 17 was, coincidentally, my birthday. When a group of our wonderful Indian graduate students found out, they ventured into my office. “David,” they wondered, “In America are you supposed to give chocolate to everyone on your birthday or do others give to you?” I answered, of course, “It’s MY birthday, so I get the gifts!”
I understood, though, their concerns about the appropriate exercise of the birthday ceremony in the U.S. As a young man in my early 20s, I had ventured overseas and spent a year on a work-study exchange program in England. Imagine my surprise as a number of my new British friends threw me a raucous birthday party at a local pub and, at the end of the festivities, the bartender presented me the bill.
“Mate,” he explained, sensing my shock, “on your birthday in the U.K., YOU buy the rounds!”
But seriously, this lack of commercialization and materialism is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a time for friends and family. To listen to each other and to express gratitude for what we have, who we have, and where we are. It may also be that the celebration touches deep in our common ancestral memories.
Thanksgiving is an occasion that spans cultures, continents and millennia. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute after the fall harvest. There are festivals in Asia, Africa and South America. Native Americans commemorated the fall harvest before the Europeans arrived. The modern American Thanksgiving began in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists (from England) and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast.
I find it appropriate that the original American Thanksgiving was a coming together of cultures. That’s what our International Thanksgiving represents. We have nearly 700 international students enrolled at Trine University. Today, there are more than 1 million international students attending colleges and universities in the United States. Last year more than 300,000 Americans studied abroad. Universities are a primary conduit for people from around the world to meet together and learn about each other.
The annual International Thanksgiving at Trine University, in our small corner of Northeast Indiana, gives us the opportunity to thank the members of our community who bring us the unique blend of their experiences, insights and cultures. These guests are bringing us the world.
David Colbert is executive director of international services at Trine University. He can be reached at email@example.com.