International students experience their first “American” holidays – By Laura Eelkema

America. It is known for football, hamburgers and Thanksgiving. These are popular in the United States. But for many American’s Thanksgiving is assumed and seen as a universal holiday. But for many international students in the United States they see Thanksgiving with a fresh set of eyes as they experience it for the first time.

Fellowship, family and food are the three main ingredients in Thanksgiving. For Elrica Suhertan from Indonesia, this was her first Thanksgiving. Her good friend Rebecca Holzer invited Suhertan to join her family for this special celebration. As she anticipated the holiday she had expected the classical meal that she “only seen it in movies,” that Suhertan now was “experiencing it for myself.”

As the preparations were being made for the meal Suhertan was surprised at the amount of preparation that goes into the meal. She specifically enjoyed watching as the turkey was cleaned and prepared for cooking. Previous to this she did not know that the turkey was cleaned by pouring water into the turkey and then sloshing the water around.

At the beginning of the meal the family gathered and went around the table each taking turns saying what they were thankful for. For Suhertan this was a highlight of the Thanksgiving experience. There was plenty of “classical thanksgiving food” said Suhertan which was the exactly what she was expecting. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and green bean casserole where served, and her favorite part of the meal was the stuffing. Suhertan spent time helping bake the desserts which included pecan pie, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie was her favorite, though it is not common in Indonesia.

An aspect that she enjoyed of Thanksgiving was the family environment. The Holzer family had game time where they played a wide variety of games including mafia, Suhertan’s favorite. The Holzer sisters also played Just Dance were “Elrica was really impressed with our Just Dance abilities” said Holzer. Holzer’s younger sisters range from seventeen to twelve years old and are “crazy … very loud and very obnoxious and sarcastic and very in your face … Danielle, the youngest, especially likes to ask a million questions.” Holzer was impressed with how well Suhertan coped with her family.

In Indonesia the only holidays that are similar to Thanksgiving are Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In Indonesia these holidays are more celebrated compared to the United States. They set aside the day to thank the father or the mother by spending time with them by doing crafts or other games that the family enjoys.

Suhertan family is very close so on Mother’s and Father’s Day is when she sees the whole family coming together to give thanks and celebrate like Americans do on Thanksgiving. Because extended family is around the same debriefing that takes place on Thanksgiving in America happens at Mother’s and Father’s Day in Indonesia. Where the family gathers and chats for hours about life and what new has happened since they last spoke.

At Suhertan’s school growing up there was a “family game day” where the family would join together and play games at school and they would spend the day with them. This is similar to what she saw in the Holzer family as they spent time playing games together.

“It’s amazing, the opportunity to experience American Thanksgiving” Suhertan said as she reflects on the time that she spent with the Holzer family.

She is truly thankful for the gift of fellowship, family and food after this break. Suhertan simply describes her experiences as “it’s family. It’s home.”

By Laura Eelkema

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