Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Student life: Feeling friendship while far away from home

Every year, Bologna Center students organize a gigantic meal to celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Below, current student Xiaoqun Dong reflects on what her first Thanksgiving meant to her.

On a cold winter night in northern Italy, the 30-minute walk from my apartment to SAIS was no joy, and holding two large cans of freezing gelato just made things worse.

But the orange lamplight at the end of via Belmeloro, the welcome hugs from excited friends and long tables covered with dishes of delicious food put an end to any chill I might have felt ahead of my first Thanksgiving dinner.
A packed auditorium listening to Director Kenneth Keller
Photo by Morgan Graham (BC14/DC15)

I should have guessed how important this holiday is in U.S. culture when our director of Finance and Administration, Bart Drakulich, agreed to allow the Thanksgiving feast in the auditorium. (As all Bologna Center students know, the auditorium is Bart’s “baby” and generally no food is allowed there.) In his opening speech, Director Keller told how Thanksgiving started as a celebration by the Pilgrims of their good harvest in New England and how Abraham Lincoln later declared the last Thursday of November a national holiday.

There is always a danger that by celebrating a ritual over and over, we can lose sight of its real meaning.
It seems that today, following the 2008 financial crisis, some holidays are little more than excuses to boost domestic consumption.

But I soon realized Thanksgiving is more than an excuse for eating copious amounts of food: It is a day for counting our blessings. Thanksgiving reminds me of the Spring Festival in China, when families gather and celebrate the good memories of the past year.

Pardoned turkey doing a jig
Photo by Holly Love Deaton
Apparently, SAIS Europe used to hold its Thanksgiving meal in a restaurant. I am thankful that the corn and turkey were overcooked in the restaurant so that now we students prepare the meal and celebrate together at the Center.

I was delighted to line up with friends and to make small talk while locking our eyes on the whipped cream and apple pies and later sitting on a sofa holding our stomachs full of mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole.

It was clear, as my flatmates proudly proclaimed, that American food is not just hamburgers and french fries.

I am thankful to be a part of this warm SAIS community. I laughed out loud when Dr Keller pardoned a mock turkey -- student Paul Stack in a rib-splitting costume who later danced among the dining tables. When I dared mention the stress of my studies, my friends simply patted me on the back and piled more pumpkin pie on my plate.

They made me feel at home even though China was 5,600 miles away.

Xiaoqun Dong (BC14/DC15)

No comments: