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This Thursday, roasted turkey, stuffing and other traditional foods will grace the tables of many American families. For international students and faculty members who cannot go home for the holiday, however, Thanksgiving can be a lonely time. The Office of International Programs tries to give everyone a home for the holidays, with a continuing tradition of matching international students and scholars with American hosts. The program has succeeded in matching about 20 members of the University community with hosts in previous years. This year, an even larger pool of students and faculty members has requested hosts. According to OIP international student advisor Shalini Bhutani, "feelings of loneliness and homesickness are especially common at this time of year, when most of the Penn community is focused on family related activities." But for international students, sharing the festive dinner can accomplish more than relieving loneliness. The experience affords the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of American culture. "Many students and scholars rarely have a chance to be part of the larger community and many return to their home countries without having made any American friends," Bhutani said. First-year Wharton doctoral student Ken Sugimoto explained that sharing food provides an inside look into cultural life, and gives foreign students a chance to learn aspects of "the history and way of life of America." Bhutani also said she hopes "we can help to break down some stereotypes on both sides, while encouraging friendships." Opportunities such as these can provide long-lasting memories of stays in America. OIP Associate Director Ann Kuhlman noted that international students in the United States frequently report these experiences as being among the highlights of their stays. On the other side, hosts have their own reasons for opening their homes. Dee Stenton, an administrative assistant at the Dental School, said she feels that every international visitor should "be given the experience of spending Thanksgiving with a typical, dysfunctional American family." "A chance meeting can turn into a lifetime friendship," Stenton added, reflecting on her experience of hosting a Spanish high school student for several months. Adonna Mackley, a resource coordinator for Penn Abroad, recently traveled in Scotland and knew the feelings of emptiness that spending a national holiday alone in a foreign country could cause. "It would've been nice to get to know a Scottish family," she recalled. This program is one of many originating from the OIP office that aim to make international staff and students feel more at home. Orientations, day trips and a support group are also offered. Nevertheless, Kuhlman stressed that welcoming the international population is a goal shared by many in the University. "Much of what makes the international scholar feel welcome is done at the departmental level or, for some students, in the residences," she said.

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