STARKVILLE, Miss.--During a time of family get-togethers, good food and the most unique of American holidays, Thanksgiving also can pose a tricky question for students who are far from their families, especially international students.
While some international students in the U.S. may appreciate the extra time to study before the semester winds down and final exams approach, others want to take advantage of the break to do some American sight-seeing, get in on Black Friday shopping deals, or just spend the time hanging out with friends.
For those who can't be with their families, but are planning to stay near Starkville, the community provides a welcoming environment, with residents who are more than willing to make the holiday a special experience.
Armando and Ruth de la Cruz started inviting Mississippi State's international students to their home for Thanksgiving dinner nearly 40 years ago, The couple themselves had experienced loneliness during the holidays when they left their native Philippines for the U.S.
"I'm very sensitive to helping international students come together during the holidays," said Armando de la Cruz, a professor emeritus in MSU's Department of Biological Sciences.
The first few gatherings in the de la Cruz home consisted of 10-25 mainly of Filipino and other Asian students. But the couple felt more students wanted to attend, so they asked First United Methodist Church to sponsor the dinner and hold it in the fellowship hall. After sponsoring the dinner for 28 years, attendance at the church has grown to 250.
"Students come to this city for an education. It's good for them to get off campus, so they will have memories outside of the academic environment," Armando de la Cruz said.
While the dinner first provided students a meal when many eateries on campus were closed for the holiday break, it has evolved into a way to help students know what this American holiday is all about, he said.
Held this year at noon on Thanksgiving Day, the dinner is traditional turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes. And it isn't just for international students, de la Cruz added. Other students and families from the community participate in the celebration as well.
The dinner also is a cultural showcase, where the international students perform dances, sing and display other talents for those gathered.
A genuine group effort, volunteers from the church and community help prepare and serve dinner, decorate and set up tables and chairs, dine with the international guests and clean-up. The food and door prizes are donated by church members and friends from the community. Transportation is provided by the church and the World Neighbors Organization for those who don't have vehicles.
All in all, the event illustrates the original principles of the Thanksgiving holiday: providing a welcoming atmosphere to foster friendships and share cultures, which is "the true spirit of this American tradition," Ruth de la Cruz said.
For more information about the event, go to http://www.wneighbors.org/.
For a list of local events and celebrations, click here.