GOSHEN — For nearly a decade, Goshen College communications professor Jason Samuel and his family have been opening up their doors to international college students and others who couldn’t be with their families for the Thanksgiving holiday.
This Thursday, that tradition was continued in spades.
According to Samuel, the idea for the annual Thanksgiving tradition began back in 2004 when his wife, Jenny, and son, Colin, were sitting down to a small Thanksgiving meal of their own.
“When I was going to college here in Goshen, going home to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving wasn’t too feasible for me, so I ended up staying on campus, and it was deserted as you can imagine,” Samuel said. “Then after I got married, I found myself working a lot of Thanksgiving weekends, so my wife and I, we never really traveled for Thanksgiving. So usually it was just us and our son, and we had these tiny little Thanksgivings. So one day I just thought, ‘Hey, I remember what it was like to be alone on Thanksgiving in college, so why not do our own big Thanksgiving dinner here and invite some of the kids.’ And that’s how it all started.”
Jump to 2013, and the annual dinner is more popular than ever, with between 20 and 30 students from the college on average finding their way to the Samuel’s home for appetizers, maybe a little football (Green Bay vs. Detroit), and of course, a Thanksgiving meal to make anyone envious.
“Normally we do turkey and ham, but this year we’re doing turkey, two honey baked hams and a Pekin duck,” Samuel said with a laugh. “And we’ve got enough sides, I think we could probably feed 50 people easy. We’ve got vegetarian and sausage stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, cranberry sauce, a ridiculous number of biscuits... you name it. Then we’ve got like five pies, a few gallons of ice cream. It’s insane.”
For many of the international students, Samuel’s event is the first real introduction to the American Thanksgiving holiday they have ever experienced. For some of the other kids, it’s just a nice way to celebrate the holiday with friends when they otherwise might not have had much of a celebration at all.
“We get kids from all over,” Samuel said. “We’ve had kids from Ohio, kids from right here in Goshen... some of them just can’t go home for whatever reason. Maybe it’s too far, or maybe they just have too much to do. For example, next week is the last full week of classes before break, so some of them don’t feel they can take the time to get away. Then with the international students, many of them don’t have a Thanksgiving tradition of their own, so this is kind of their introduction to that. I think we’ve had somebody from every continent on the globe other than maybe Antarctica.”
Ashika Thanju, a GC junior from Nepal, was a first-time attendee of the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
“Every year, our advisor sends us an email about how Jason invites international students to his house for Thanksgiving,” Thanju said. “I didn’t go last year, but this year my friends told me I should come because it’s a really neat opportunity. This is really kind of like my first family Thanksgiving, and I really like it so far. There’s a lot of food, so it’s pretty cool.”
Viren Wadhwa, a GC sophomore from Singapore, was quick to agree.
“This is my first time here, and it’s great,” Wadhwa said after sitting down to the table to begin his meal. “It’s always cool to be able to hang out and meet new people. If I couldn’t do this, I’d have probably gone somewhere else, but I don’t know where. So this is really nice to be able to get together with everybody and enjoy ourselves.”
As the annual gathering has grown over the years, Samuel admits he does at times have the occasional “What was I thinking!” moment... but only for a moment.
“I mean, there are moments where I say to myself, ‘This is absolutely nuts’, but it’s only for a fleeting second,” Samuel said. “But it boils down to, it’s Thanksgiving, and we’re thankful for community and the family we have. We have two large families in Philadelphia right now, and we can’t be with them, so we make our own family here, and we’ve extended that out to other people. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you think... we don’t care about any of that today. Today, it’s just about hanging out and having a great time with friends.”