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International exchange students from Panama join Illinois State faculty to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a time for families to get together, give thanks, and share an amazing meal. Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, it is a family-oriented holiday. On a university campus, Thanksgiving brings with it a holiday feeling where everyone is excited to visit his or her family, and spend the day with a home-cooked meal.

International students’ families are often thousands of miles away, leaving students alone for the holiday. Sensing this—and with an aim to familiarize this local culture to international students at Illinois State University—Philip Chidester opened his home.

Chidester, an associate professor from Illinois State’s School of Communication, has been celebrating his last few Thanksgivings by hosting several international students. One of the faculty directors of Illinois State’s Study Abroad Program, Chidester said he was fascinated when families welcomed him into their homes during his study abroad trip. By hosting international students during Thanksgiving, he hopes to return the favor. “Food can be a great way to learn about other cultures,” he said. Last year, Chidester hosted a group of exchange students from Panama. In addition to the conventional home-cooked turkey meal he prepared, the group members brought in dishes from their culture, and the holiday was spent sharing a rich, multicultural meal.

“As part of the campus community, it is important to take this opportunity to introduce American culture to international students. These acts not only help international students to understand the local cultures, but also help in promoting Illinois State across the globe,” Chidester added.

Chidester mentioned that he also has a selfish motive behind his act. With finals around the corner, it becomes difficult for him to spend the holiday with his family living in Utah. “I know what it means to be away from family on Thanksgiving,” he said.

Gaby Gómez, an undergraduate exchange student from Panama, called the experience of spending Thanksgiving at Chidester’s house amazing. “I heard a lot about Thanksgiving Day in movies. It was not until November 2016 at Dr. Phillip’s house that I had the opportunity to have this experience,” she said. “For me, as an international student, this was an event that allowed me to learn more about American culture.”

Chidester is not the only Redbird who hosts international students for such events. Many others from different departments of the university have been making efforts to familiarize international students to the local culture.

John Baldwin, who is one of the faculty directors of Illinois State’s Study Abroad Program, mentioned that it is always good for international students to have a chance to be in host families’ homes. “It gives them a much better view of what American life is like. This is especially important for holidays like Thanksgiving, where we remember and celebrate a particular version of our heritage,” he said. Baldwin, a communication professor from Illinois State’s School of Communication, is involved with international students, from training in their initial orientation to attending multiple international student events.

Daniel Cochece Davis and his wife, Dawn, have been hosting Thanksgiving for international students for the past few years. “On a day when so many people are spending time with their families, we thought it would be nice to share our family time with these students who are so far from their homes,” said Cochece Davis, who is an assistant professor from the university’s School of Communication. “It gives us the chance to give thanks for all we have, including the diversity of experience they bring to the campus and to our lives.” He added their daughter grew up with several international experiences, living in Italy, and traveling to Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, and Germany. “To spend time with people from other cultures, sharing our home and holidays with them, seems like a gift they are giving to us,” said Cochece Davis.

Dawn Davis, who works at Illinois State’s Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, agreed. “Inviting the international students to our home not only helps them experience our cultural celebrations, but also provides us with an extended family. Moreover, they seem to really enjoy and appreciate it.”

In addition to the invitations from local families, Illinois State’s international students are also hosted each year by various other university departments like the Office of International Studies and Programs, I-House, and the university’s English Language Institute among others.



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