For most Bearcats, Thanksgiving break is a time to travel back to their hometowns, enjoy a home-cooked meal, watch a parade and football.
For international students, however, for international students, heading home isn’t as convenient and Thanksgiving isn’t typically a holiday celebrated.
Holidays are a special time to spend with friends and family, but for many international students, going home to celebrate isn’t an option. On campus, students can expect to see some of these traditions on display. Alianza, the Latino and allies group, held an event for Day of the Dead Oct. 31. The Indian Student Association and the Nepali Student Association also sold traditional food as a fundraiser for the Diwali festival, Nov. 7. This is the first time the two organizations have partnered for the festival.
For junior Abha Niraula, an international student from Nepal, Diwali means tradition, community and spending time with family.
“This is my favorite holiday of all our holidays,” Niraula said. “I grew up with a lot of cousins and this was a time to get together, the whole family got together. I got a lot of money from them. I’d give them gifts, and they’d give me money. It was just a time for all the kids together.”
Diwali is a holiday often called the Festival of Lights, which is fitting since the name is Sanskrit, meaning “row of lamps.”
“This festival signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance,” Niraula said. “People light little tea lights, candles, string lights, anything to light up their homes. It’s believed the light will guide the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, to your home and she will bring you wealth, light and happiness to your life. Our culture specifically, in Nepal, we have this ceremony for siblings. Older siblings give blessings and wish wealth, health and happiness and gifts to our little brothers and sisters.”
The holiday of Diwali is celebrated by four different religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sheikh and Jainism, an ancient religion in India which believes in reincarnation rather than a deity.
Each religion celebrates the festival for different reasons. For Hindus, it’s a time to celebrate the return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya after their 14-year exile. Buddhists use it as a time to remember Emperor Ashoka who converted to Buddhism and allowed it to spread throughout India. Sheikhs commemorate the homecoming of their Guru Har Gobind Ji from the prison of Emperor Jahangir. Jainism honors Lord Mahavira, a monk who achieved Nirvana and broke the reincarnation cycle.
The festival lasts five days. During the days leading up to this festival, celebrants are encouraged to clean, renovate and decorate their homes. During Diwali, people exchange sweets, presents and buy new clothes.
For Niraula, the opportunity to celebrate her culture helps her feel a little closer to home.
“I think it’s great we get to do this,” Niraula said. “Especially here where we don't have a really big community, it’s nice to have this. It’s like having a little piece of home.”
The festival hosted by the NSA and ISA took place Nov. 7 with sparklers, colored powder and, of course, lots of lights.
While international students prepared and celebrated their holidays, they still made plans for Thanksgiving and enjoy the time off class.
For junior dietetics major Nayeon Lee, an international student from South Korea, Thanksgiving break provides an opportunity to travel and relax.
“My first year, I went to visit my aunt in California,” Lee said. “Last year, I was invited to my American friend’s Thanksgiving, and I just got to see this American holiday. This year, I haven’t planned anything yet. Most international students, they either go to their relatives who live in the U.S. or they stay here in Maryville and spend time together. It’s nothing really special, and you don’t want to waste a holiday like that, so we get together and watch movies and stuff.”
Thanksgiving in the U.S. also brings back memories of Lee’s version of Thanksgiving back home.
“We actually have our own version of Thanksgiving in Korea,” Lee said. “It’s slightly different dates because we use the lunar calendar.”
Many countries, such as Argentina and China, have their own version of Thanksgiving or harvest festival.
In South Korea, the country celebrates Chuseok, the Korean harvest festival. It is one of the most important and anticipated holidays similar to Thanksgiving. The holiday revolves around family and food. Traditionally, families travel back to their hometowns to celebrate for three days in September. While the holiday does share some similarities with America’s food-centric day, there are some big differences.
“It’s not like typical foods you’d see in America,” Lee said. “We don’t really eat turkey in Korea and just seeing turkey on the dinner table was weird. I was just like ‘That is so much food.’ I just felt stuffed the whole day.”
One of the main dishes for Chuseok is songpyeon. According to vistkorea.or.kr, songpyeon is prepared with rice powder that is kneaded into a size that is a little smaller than a golf ball, and then filled with sesame seeds, beans, red beans, chestnuts or other nutritious ingredients. When steaming the songpyeon, the rice cakes are layered with pine needles to add the delightful fragrance of pine. It is an old tradition for families to make songpyeon together on the eve of Chuseok.
“I think it’s so amazing we get to have this little piece of home,” Niraula said, “It’s nice to have it.”