WEST BURLINGTON – Community members gathered at Southeastern Community College Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving and introduce the holiday to international students for the first time.
Nearly 200 attended the event, hosted by the SCC’s Multicultural Club in the gym on the West Burlington campus. The event was free and public, and served turkey, drinks, and other international dishes to attendees.
The meeting also featured raffles and gave international students participating in the college’s English as a Second Language program the opportunity to speak about their native culture, including their food, music, and other traditions, at the event.
SCC was hosting the celebration for the 15th time, according to Jessica Snowden, SCC’s international programs specialist and one of the event’s sponsors.
“I think Thanksgiving is such a big part of American culture, something that a lot of them don’t celebrate in their country, so it’s a good tradition to share with them,” Snowden said.
The event that Snowden added is also a great way for international students to share details about their own culture, allow them to celebrate the things they are grateful for in their own lives, and allow the SCC and the community to These students here in Iowa have to show their gratitude.
For Larisa Conner, professor of the SCC’s ESL program, the Thanksgiving event was ongoing work.
Conner said the college celebrations originally began years ago with very few students and as a way for them to say thank you for their opportunity to be in America, get an education, and play sports.
“(The event) got kind of snowy (over time) and now it’s huge,” Conner said, adding that the gathering has been attended by an increasing number of students and members of the community over the years.
For Conner, who immigrated to the US from Russia 20 years ago and has worked at SCC for the past 18 years, the annual celebration was an opportunity for SCC not only to help students learn, but also to feel included.
“When you’re in a foreign country, everything is different,” said Conner. “And I think (the international students) are very excited. I teach them that when something is different … there is no good or bad, there is just something else.
“They go through phases,” she said. “When they first arrive, it’s euphoria. You are happy to be here. It’s all about learning and doing things, making new friends.
Conner said the Thanksgiving celebration is one way to help some high school students ease their homesickness.
This appeared to be the case for an SCC student who spoke to The Hawk Eye at the event.
Yuhan “Tina” Huang said this is the first time Thanksgiving will be celebrated.
Originally from Guangxi, China, Huang first came to America to attend Holy Trinity High School in Fort Madison but has been stuck in the United States for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Huang said she missed her family but enjoyed the celebration and understands why others appreciate the Thanksgiving holiday so much.
Other international students from Japan, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Spain all told The Hawk Eye that they enjoyed the food and the event as a whole.
But for other SCC students in attendance, although it wasn’t the first time Thanksgiving had been celebrated, the event reminded them not only of how it came to celebrate Thanksgiving themselves, but also what they are thankful for and thankful for themselves how important it can be for others to feel included.
SCC newcomer Abdi Mohamed, whose family came to the US from Somalia 10 years ago, said his family did not know about the holiday for the first three years after arriving.
“When I first heard about (the vacation), we thought it was kind of funny because (his family) didn’t always know about it,” he said. “But when we started doing it, we noticed that people (celebrating) the family were getting together and just getting together for a moment and having food and chilling out … I don’t think there is any harm in just enjoying American food.”
SCC student Francisco Trejo, whose family is originally from Mexico and moved to the US 20 years ago, said the event gave him the opportunity to learn about other cultures and speak to others in French and Spanish, both of which he speaks fluently.
SCC newcomer Juana Barrios, who is originally from San Luis Potosí, Mexico and has lived in the United States since she was three, said the event was only the third time she’s celebrated Thanksgiving in recent years.
“I think it’s more of an American thing,” said Barrios. “I’m Mexican so we don’t celebrate it for what it means, but we see it as an excuse to just get together and have something to eat.”
However, Barrios also said the meeting helped her see the SCC’s cultural diversity in ways that she had not noticed before.
“As someone who’s been here a long time, I’ve never met another Hispanic or Latino,” she said. “I grew up here. I went to BHS and we didn’t really have a lot of Hispanic. Latin people. Well, I didn’t really have a lot of friends. So, I think it’s cool that they put this together. Because then I can see the diversity of people who go to SCC. Because I didn’t know how people come here (to learn). ”
For SCC freshman Tatyanah Benally, originally from New Mexico and a member of the Navajo Nation, Thanksgiving was an opportunity to show others in the community her culture as she spoke to the crowd during the event.
“I like my culture a lot. My family made me do it, so it’s been passed down through generations, “said Benally.” I put on my traditional clothes and like to show them off because I don’t hide them at all. ”
For Benally, who cannot return home to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family this year, the event not only gave her an opportunity to celebrate, but also allowed her to say thank you for the things in her life that made her sacrifice brought .
“I think it was nice because some people couldn’t go home on Thanksgiving. I couldn’t,” she said. “I think Thanksgiving shows who you’re grateful for and grateful for the things that happened to you. And I’m just grateful that I had this opportunity to get a scholarship and play volleyball and basketball and be here. I am very grateful for this and I am grateful for my family because they supported me and helped me move away from home for 18 hours. ”