EF Students Celebrate First Thanksgiving with Local Host Families

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by Maria Ann Roglieri

On November 26, international students at the EF English language school in Tarrytown celebrated their first Thanksgiving at the home of host families all over Westchester and New York City. The EF program, “Take a Student Home for Thanksgiving,” began in 2011 with 10 students and local community participants, and has grown exponentially since then, through a combination of word-of-mouth and community outreach.

This year, there were more than 130 participating international students from Europe, South America, Asia, and all over the world. They celebrated Thanksgiving at the private homes of EF host families (who have a student already living with them), EF teachers, EF staff, volunteer Tarrytown families, and members of various church communities. Some students even enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal hosted at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown.

Each year, participating EF students are placed with a host family for Thanksgiving according to their dietary or time needs. For example, vegetarians are placed with a vegetarian family, and students attending the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City are placed with a family that is serving dinner later in the evening. Families typically host between one and six students, and many families enjoy the experience so much that they elect to host students every year.

Most of these international students are in the United States for the first time and do not fully understand why and how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. They have really only seen glimpses of American family traditions on television. They are excited by the elaborate feast as they try foods that are new to them: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, pumpkin pie, etc. They often bring food from their own country, and/or go early to learn how to prepare the feast.

The students love the conversations with their host families, and the exchange of ideas across cultures. They enjoy learning about uniquely American traditions, not only those of Thanksgiving but also those of July 4. They discuss their own traditions and American traditions for religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Diwali, and Rosh Hashanah. They meet multiple generations of one family and get a chance to practice their English for hours on end. Many participating students become so attached to their host families that they stay in touch with them for years afterward.

Maria Phillips of Peekskill, along with her extended family, has been hosting EF students for Thanksgiving for several years. Two years ago, she hosted two male students from Colombia; last year, she hosted two female students from France, Annemijn and Manon, who had been studying at EF for nine months. Phillips enjoyed sharing her special foods including not only turkey but also a family favorite turnip dish with Annemijn and Manon. She especially enjoyed the savory French crepes that the girls, in turn, made for dessert! After dinner, she and her entire family, along with their guests, danced to Michael Jackson’s Dance Revolution on the Wii.

Annemijn and Manon visited with Philips and her family many times after Thanksgiving before they returned to Paris. They still keep in touch with her daughters regularly via Facebook and Instagram. Phillips plans to continue hosting students as, in her words, “exposing your children to different cultures is very rewarding and really doesn’t have a downside!”

Aurelien Bridelance, an EF student since September, celebrated his first American Thanksgiving this year. A native of northern France (Saint Viaud, Bretagne), he came to EF after graduating high school and before beginning college in France, where he plans to study business. He came to the U.S. to learn English so that he can eventually conduct international business in both French and English. He believes that it is important not only to learn English, but also to learn as much as possible about American families, customs, and the American worldview. Sharing Thanksgiving and engaging in long discussions with his host family were great ways for him to do this.

Before this year, he had never eaten turkey and pumpkin pie, never watched American football, and never experienced Black Friday and cyber Monday. He enjoyed all of these activities, and even hopes to participate in Black Friday next year from France. Over a slice of pumpkin pie, meanwhile, he taught his host family about the traditional French cake, Gâteau des Rois, which is served on Three Kings Day (January 6). The cake is intended to lure the Kings to the Epiphany and contains a figurine of the baby Jesus in it. Whoever finds the figurine in his/her slice of cake is crowned King for the day. Luckily for Aurelien’s host family, these cakes are available in the New York area. It remains to be seen who will be King when the members of his host family try their first gâteau this coming January!

For EF international students, the Thanksgiving experience is certainly one of the highlights of their stay in New York. For local families hosting them, the cultural exchange is an invaluable and memorable encounter. If you are interested in hosting an international student for Thanksgiving next year, please contact Danielle Furfaro at (914) 597-7106 or danielle.furfaro@ef.com.

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