West Virginia University freshman Caleb Azonsi will celebrate his first Thanksgiving today. The Nigeria native and engineering major has never experienced the American holiday before.
He knows from talking with friends that the holiday is about giving thanks and, of course, turkey and other food favorites.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s about the merriment and reflecting on the whole year and giving thanks,” Azonsi said.
Unable to head home for the holiday, about 300 of WVU’s international students like Azonsi will celebrate Thanksgiving at the Waterfront Place Hotel on Thursday (Nov. 24).
The hotel’s ovens will be filled to capacity that morning, as it prepares 76 turkeys, 19 hams and tens of pounds of mashed potatoes, stuffing and other Thanksgiving specialties.
“The only reason the hotel is here is because the University is here. They’ve always wanted to give back to the University for that reason, and this is one of the ways they do,” said Dan Watts, general manager of the Waterfront Place Hotel. “These international students can’t get home, so this gives them a chance to celebrate the holiday like any other holiday.”
The nearly 50-member hotel staff will spend Thanksgiving holiday dishing up dinners to the international students and other members of the community who come to the hotel’s annual Thanksgiving buffet.
“We are very thankful to the Waterfront Place Hotel and its staff for welcoming the WVU international families year after year to share a traditional thanksgiving dinner with them,” said Grace Atebe, assistant director of WVU’s Office of International Students and Scholars.
The international student dinner starts at 6 p.m.; the entire dining room is left for the WVU students who come in bunches each year. As of earlier this week, about 200 tickets were taken, and it was expected that nearly 300 people will fill the hotel’s dining room that night.
Since the hotel opened eight years ago, the Thanksgiving dinner has been offered and averages about 300 students each time.
Junior petroleum and natural gas engineering student Gbolahan Idowu will spend his first Thanksgiving on campus. The Nigeria native has spent the last two at his brother’s home in Missouri, but Idowu decided to stay in Morgantown this year.
“I don’t get to go back home for the holidays, but I know this is a great time to see what I have to be thankful for,” Idowu said.
Sophomore electrical engineering student Oluwantoni Fuwape, also from Nigeria, will also attend the Thanksgiving dinner and is excited to meet some new friends and see others from Africa that he has met throughout his time at WVU.
“Most times people spend Thanksgiving with their parents and family and use the time to reflect on what has been going on over the past year. It’s a time to relax and have fun,” he said. “Being able to have dinner makes me feel welcome at WVU.”
It’s not just for WVU students, either. Many of the University’s international students have spouses and children who are also invited to the event. Watts said it’s not uncommon for a handful of families to enjoy the event each year.
“Everybody wants to be around somebody for the holidays, especially when most of the students are back at home for the holidays,” Watts said. “It’s nice to have someone to be around and have dinner with for Thanksgiving.
“It’s not a labor to us here. We love it. Every year our staff hopes that we can serve a little bit more.”
For some, this is their first Thanksgiving celebration, and it allows these students an opportunity to learn about the holiday and some of the rich American history that surrounds Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is a wonderful American tradition and the opportunity to share with students abroad is especially rewarding,” said Jennifer McIntosh, executive officer of the WVU President’s Office for Social Justice. “A special appreciation goes to those who use this time to enjoy this holiday with our International Students.”
CONTACT: University Relations-News
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