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Photo from Eva Zhang

Students who remained on campus during Thanksgiving break found comfort and food in professors’ homes through the Assembly of International Students’ inaugural “Thanksgiving Meal” program. 

AIS paired 15 faculty members with more than 50 international, international guest, exchange, and domestic students for Thanksgiving dinner or another meal during break. Each professor and staff member hosted two to four students.

Penn college houses usually restrict their Thanksgiving dinners to residents of those dorms. However, with the new AIS program, off-campus students could also celebrate Thanksgiving with professors and staff members free of charge. 

Wharton senior Neeraj Chandrasekar and Wharton and College junior Eva Zhang, President and Executive Vice President of AIS respectively, spearheaded the program. 

“The original goal was for students to feel less lonely and more integrated, especially over break, when the campus is overall quiet,” said Zhang. “We wanted students to feel welcome to a family, especially for international students who have never experienced an American Thanksgiving dinner.”

Zhang added that the initiative was made possible with the help of Penn Global and the Vice Provost for University Life. 

AIS circulated the message through its newsletter and a Facebook event they created. They also asked administrator offices and house deans to spread the word. Students signed up by completing a Google form that asked for their time availability and interests. 

Engineering freshman Kshitiz Garg said he enjoyed the dinner and company at CIS senior lecturer Arvind Bhusnurmath's home. 

“I felt for a moment that they were my own family, and I never felt like an outsider during [those] four hours,” Garg said, who added that Bhusnurmath also paid for his Lyft ride to and from his home. 

The day after Thanksgiving, AIS also had an open house in Houston Hall, where they catered food and provided board games for students. Zhang said that both undergraduate and graduate students attended the event. 

Given the overall positive feedback and responses, the “Thanksgiving Meal” program will be continued in the future. 

“Next year, we are expecting it to be even bigger, with a lot more people signed up,” Chandrasekar stated.