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Even though I’m from Germany, I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving with American friends since my junior year of high school. I even cooked a 22-pound turkey last fall when I was abroad in London. I’ve personally never spent a Thanksgiving break on campus, but I would imagine it’s not exactly uplifting, especially for an international student far away from family.

Last week, when I was in a particularly homesick mood, an e-mail Penn Diplomats sent to the College-fyi listerv inviting international and exchange students to participate in a Thanksgiving Homestay caught my eye. The group wrote that “this is a wonderful opportunity for international students to experience the American cultural significance of Thanksgiving in a homey and warm setting.” Much better than eating a turkey sandwich from 1920 Commons while looking out onto a deserted Locust Walk.

This initiative could really make a big difference for the international student community. College sophomore and Penn Diplomats President Julie Kranseler believes that Thanksgiving is a real part of American culture. I do too. I can’t imagine someone coming to this country and not getting the chance to try candied sweet potatoes or stuffing.

Shreeya Goel, an international freshman in Wharton and Engineering, also thinks this is a great initiative. “Thanksgiving break is too short for international students to go back to wherever they’re from,” she said. “It’s really sweet for Penn to organize something like this; even during fall break, campus got pretty empty.”

Interest in the Thanksgiving Homestay is high. Last year “we had about eight to 10 international students mostly because we didn’t have the resources to do anything bigger,” Kranseler said. This year, Kranseler said she already has 60 to 65 interested international and exchange students, and they’re still looking for people to volunteer to host.

But Thanksgiving can’t be the only time when Americans and international students get together. Events should aim to bring all students together rather than to isolate one group from the other.

Foreign students have separate orientation events during New Student Orientation and — in past years — it takes place before other students even arrive on campus. During these few days, they learn about the American higher-education system and how it may differ from their own. There are also sessions on cultural differences and how American interpersonal interactions may be a lot less formal than some of the students are used to.

Throughout the programming, the students stay together in one group and they seek each other out on campus. But by pointing out these differences and showing the students how foreign America is to them, the University may be doing more harm than good.

There are students out there looking to bridge the gap. Penn Diplomats, which started last September, works mainly with exchange and international students, organizing events and programs that aim to integrate the students better into the Penn community. “American students would love to get to know the international students much better … our goal is to give them a chance to meet outside of the classroom,” Kranseler said.

And Penn isn’t the only place looking to make international students feel at home. According to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year, “To ensure that international students are well integrated into campus life, colleges have been putting more effort into orientation as well as social and academic programming that engages all students on campus.”

But it’s not just the responsibility of universities to integrate international students. It’s also up to students to lead the way. So for those who live nearby, think about how you’d feel if you were left alone on campus for a long weekend while others were home with their friends and families, and see if you have a little extra room at your dining-room table.

Wiktoria Parysek is a College senior from Berlin. Her e-mail address is Wiki-Pedia appears on alternate Mondays.

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