Published November 5, 2015
When Devashish Agarwal arrived for Thanksgiving dinner last year at the home of UB staff members Chris and Meg Bragdon, the couple’s children, age 2 and 4 at the time, greeted him in Hindi, his native language.
The children then pointed out India on the world map, and Meg, an academic adviser at the School of Management, mentioned that she and Chris, an international student adviser, had been trying to teach their children about India and diversity.
“It wasn't just about hosting an international student for lunch and dinner,” Agarwal, a sophomore computer science and engineering student, says about his visit to the Bragdons’ home. “It was about making him comfortable.”
The Bragdons and their parents, who also came to dinner, “made sure there was never an awkward silence at the table and urged me to get seconds, and even thirds,” Agarwal recalls. “Meg’s scalloped corn was so good that I got the recipe and forwarded it to my mom.
“Honestly, it still is one of the best moments of my time here at UB.”
And that’s the point of Thanksgiving without Borders, a UB program designed to foster a more inclusive community by encouraging meaningful, cross-cultural experiences for faculty, staff and students.
Nearly 30 faculty and staff members took part in last year’s inaugural Thanksgiving without Borders — called Inclusive Thanksgiving last year — which is presented by the offices of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and the Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion.
Organizers Ellen Dussourd, assistant vice provost and director of ISSS, and Teresa A. Miller, vice provost for equity and inclusion, say the idea is for international students to learn about this unique aspect of American culture by celebrating Thanksgiving with UB employees and their families. And in turn, participating families share their traditions while making connections with members of the UB international community.
Brenda Fix calls the program “a wonderful experience.” While working for the School of Nursing’s undergraduate program last year, she received an email inviting UB faculty and staff to host an international student for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Thanksgiving is a very warm, family-centered holiday for my family and I thought how nice it would be to share our experience with someone who doesn’t have some place to go or, better yet, has never experienced our American tradition,” Fix says. “I also thought it would be a good experience for my children and nieces and nephews, most who are college students themselves.”
Imran Gulzar, a Pakistani graduate student, and his wife and 2-year-old son joined the Fix family for dinner — the guests included Fix’s parents, siblings, her siblings’ families and a couple of others for a total of 32 at the table.
“We had the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings and several different pies for dessert,” Fix says. “Imran and his family did not have turkey because of their culture, but they ate everything else and tried each one of the pies.
“My family was warm and inviting, and Imran and his family seemed comfortable and enjoyed themselves. We took lots of pictures and they stayed for almost four hours,” she says.
“Imran filled us in on some of his culture and traditions, as well as asked questions of ours. It was a really great experience.”
Provost Charles F. Zukoski says that if he had to use one word to describe Thanksgiving dinner at his house, it would be “boisterous.” So that was the atmosphere for the three international students who joined Zukoski and more than 20 other friends and family members for dinner last year.
“We wanted to extend a welcome to international students,” he explains when asked why he took part in last year’s UB program.
The students and members of the Zukoski family enjoyed the day, spent eating, talking and playing ping pong.
“It was a nice way to reach out on what can be a dark, quiet day in the U.S. if you don’t know what Thanksgiving is about,” he says. “We enjoyed getting to know the students.”
Organizers of Thanksgiving without Borders are hoping to double the number of host families this year. Faculty and staff interested in hosting students can sign up on the Thanksgiving without Borders website. Participants are asked to fill out a survey and registration form. While the deadline to sign up is Nov. 6, registrations will be taken as late as Nov. 9.
Faculty and staff who already have plans to host international students for Thanksgiving are asked to complete the survey so organizers can have a better understanding of UB international students’ Thanksgiving experiences.