HomeTravelThanksgiving on campus: How some Delaware students spend the American holiday at...

Thanksgiving on campus: How some Delaware students spend the American holiday at school


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Campus grows quiet.

Seyda Naz Alasahin knows this holiday holds no significance back home — save perhaps the happenstance of a shared name and main course — but still, she feels lonely. The doctoral student from Turkey has studied at the University of Delaware since beginning her master’s nearly four years ago. And in those early years, first laced with months of pandemic shutdown, she’d never experienced Thanksgiving.

“Even though we don’t have an actual Thanksgiving in Turkey, I still could feel people having a good time with their friends and family,” recalled the student of electrical engineering from her first two years in the states. “And the fact that knowing that my home is so far away, that I can’t just go and spend my time with them, was a little bit sad for me.”

Seyda went to the home of an adviser for her first-ever Thanksgiving Day cuisine last November, but she has most often just spent the quiet week with schoolwork and research, as campus all but empties.

This year, she has dinner plans.

Help is here: Where to get pies in Delaware this Thanksgiving

Most college students will likely join some 55.4 million travelers headed 50 miles or more, or about 4.7 million people flying to Thanksgiving plans, while turkey-day travel overall is expected to be 2.3% higher than last year, according to AAA’s projections.

It might be easy to forget not everyone can go home. Delaware universities also have thousands of international students, living miles from home as an American holiday closes down their campus.

One of nearly 3,000 international students at Delaware’s largest university, with some 100 countries reflected in those ranks, Seyda will be staying in the First State again this Thanksgiving. Several students are expected to do the same, as international and domestic scholars alike can apply for special break housing.

Knowing this, UD’s Center for Global Programs & Services hosted its 10th Thanksgiving Dinner for international students Sunday. Tickets sold out in under three hours — sending more than 300 students filling tables and lining buffet service stacked with traditional holiday food on Nov. 19.

Down in Dover, Delaware State University expects about 50 students to spend break on campus. Similarly, most will be international students and Dreamers. The university said a “Friendsgiving” initiative will see students given Thanksgiving fixings to prepare dinner in residential hall kitchens Thursday.

The theme seems to be: sizable portions of American culture.

“We occasionally eat turkey in Turkey, but I’d never eaten any stuffing before, you know. Last year was the first time that I had stuffing,” UD’s Seyda said, noting various sides and pies she tried last year, too. “It was great actually; I liked most of them I tasted for the first time.”

This year, she would encounter turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, rolls, pumpkin and apple pies, and more at dinner in Newark. Next, she also plans on celebrating Thanksgiving Day itself alongside her adviser and local family.

She’s ready for all of it.

“This is a time of the year where everybody gathers with their families and friends, having a cozy, traditional dinner, pay their gratitude and stuff, which I believe, we ignore a lot in our daily life,” Seyda said. “And as an international student, we are generally here alone or likely don’t have any family.”

More: Food Bank of Delaware to host annual Thanksgiving distribution, still accepting donations

‘A different experience for me altogether’

For Nachikaait Chavaan, Thanksgiving break is typically just a break.

“To be really honest, it just means we have a one-week break,” said the fellow graduate student in business analytics. “Thanksgiving is something that’s not celebrated in India, so most of the students take it as a break and they prepare for the exams — because we’ve got finals coming up.”

Vina Titaley knows he’s not alone.

UD’s international student population increased by 172% from 2009 to 2020. The state’s largest university saw a 30% uptick in undergraduate applications alone from international students this year. Some top-sending countries are China, India and South Korea.

As assistant director of International Student Engagement and Success, Titaley oversees an office helping students with everything from their visa, immigration status, employment authorization, advising on course enrollment, coordinating with academic advisers and more.

For Thanksgiving, she just wanted them to worry about what’s on the menu.

“It’s an opportunity to not only celebrate but also understand what the holiday is and have some of the traditional Thanksgiving meals,” Titaley said. “To appreciate the culture but also for them to be with each other and celebrate this together, among the international student and scholar population.”

Some students bury themselves in work; others travel over the break. This year, Nachikaait wanted to get his first dose of real Thanksgiving. Hollywood has given him a pretty good idea, though.

“I really enjoy experiencing different cultures around the world,” he said, ahead of attending the Center for Global Programs & Services’ dinner Sunday. “Attending Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a different experience for me altogether.”

The vegetarian does hope there’s more to be excited about than just turkey. He shouldn’t be let down — sides are always better.

“And I’m looking forward to meeting new people. I think Thanksgiving is all about, you know, sitting around with your family members and enjoying a nice meal,” he said through a laugh. “I might be totally wrong about that, but.”

Got a story? Kelly Powers covers race, culture and equity for Delaware Online and USA TODAY Network Northeast, with a focus on education. Contact her at kepowers@gannett.com or (231) 622-2191, and follow her on Twitter @kpowers01.

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