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Campus & Community

Getting a Seat at the Thanksgiving Table

Faculty and Staff Welcome International, Out-of-State Students, Scholars for Holiday Dinner

By Carly Taylor ’19

Thanksgiving dinner

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Hopps

Kathryn Hopps (standing), program director for experiential learning in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, hosted international students and scholars at her home for Thanksgiving in 2017. She coordinates a program started by the college to provide the holiday meal for university community members from other countries.

When Yixiao Liu traveled from China to the University of Maryland last fall, she was eager to learn more about American life. But as Thanksgiving approached, she worried she’d have nowhere to feast on roast turkey and stuffing.  

But thanks to a program coordinated by Kathryn Hopps, program director for experiential learning in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Liu and a housemate were able to join a professor and his family for a holiday of lively conversation and plenty of food.

“I had always seen this in T.V. shows and movies, but never in real life,” said Liu, a J-1 visiting researcher in sociology. “I wanted to experience a real Thanksgiving dinner.”

Liu is looking forward to meeting new people at dinner this Thursday through Be Our Guest: Sharing Our Thanksgiving Table. In 2017, when the program started, international and out-of-state students dined with faculty and staff in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and the School of Public Health. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Arts and Humanities, and the Robert H. Smith School of Business are joining the effort for this year’s celebration.

When the Trump administration imposed a series of travel bans on several majority-Muslim countries last year, Hopps wanted to make this university “a more welcoming environment.” After discovering a program that Northwestern University has for international students during the holiday, Hopps proposed the idea to the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

“Especially for residential students, the university closes down most dormitories during Thanksgiving, so it can be a really lonely time for students who don't have family nearby,” said Hopps.

Liu, who at the time felt insecure about her English-speaking skills, was delighted to chat with the hosts and other guests during the meal. While she enjoyed dinner and her first-ever slice of apple pie, the conversation stood out most, Liu said.

“That night we learned a lot about different cultures because this family moved from Germany and a [guest] was from France,” said Liu. “It was unforgettable.”

Johanna Birnir, a government and politics professor, and her husband, David Waguespack, a professor in the business school, opened their home to three students. An immigrant from Iceland, Birnir used to spend Thanksgiving with peers when she studied at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Birnir is looking forward to seeing old faces, and meeting some new ones this Thursday. One of her guests from last year is returning and bringing a friend, Birnir said.    

“I think that Thanksgiving is one of these really nice holidays that really showcases the hospitality of Americans,” said Birnir. “I think this is a lovely tradition, and this is sort of my way of paying it forward.”


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