The Benefits of Spending Thanksgiving Abroad

by Marion Bernstein

It's officially November, and for you fall semester study abroad students, that means you have a solid eight to 10 more weeks of globe trotting. For most of you, this will be your first Thanksgiving abroad, and whether you're in Italy, Brazil, or New Zealand, one thing's certain: the rest of the world just doesn't understand the primordial American need to express gratitude and patriotism by smothering a loaded plate of carbs in gravy. But have no fear my intrepid expats, I speak from experience when I say Thanksgiving can and will be done abroad — and well.

I've been fortunate enough to spend three Thanksgivings abroad: one in Australia, and two in Japan. Being thousands of miles from home during the holidays can definitely make you nostalgic for all things familiar, and summoning your holiday spirit can prove difficult when there's a glaring lack of turkey, pumpkin pie, and backyard cousin football. Be not afraid, there will be plenty more familial opportunity to let Aunt Susan lecture you on the importance of marrying wealthy. Focus on the now, and right now you're in a different land where a non-traditional holiday setting provides the perfect occasion to embrace discomfort, push the limits of the unfamiliar, and learn some new customs while sharing your own.

As a well-seasoned traveler, I've come to adopt a great appreciation for pushing the limits of my own comfort zone. And I've learned that celebrating Thanksgiving abroad can further push such limits, enriching the patchwork fabric of your life in the following ways:

1. You will discover new food.

Host or attend an international Thanksgiving potluck, and you'll be sure to learn at least eight new dishes. Who needs turkey when chicken nanban exists? Thank you, southern Japan, for you and your addictive mayonnaise are #blessed.

2. You will learn new customs.

From variations of grace to the multifarious ways of wishing good fortune, trust me when I say you'll be so glad you strayed when you're 30 and able to toast a room in no less than 13 foreign languages.

3. Holiday gatherings may lead to a cross-cultural romance.

Girl meets boy. Girl meets girl. Boy meets boy. Chinese meets American. Chilean meets Canadian. You get the idea. Besides, who else is going to teach you all that body part vocab en Francais? Rosetta Stone? Didn't think so.

4. You will pick up fun, foreign idioms.

A friend once told me that at the end of a Portuguese meal it's typical to say something along the lines of, "I'm so full... I'm sad." You're equally saddened by the fact that you ate far too much, but also because the wonderful meal has to come to an end. It's a similar feeling to what the Japanese define as "aware" — the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty.

5. You can represent your country in a positive light.

You may come across as loud, excitable, and direct, but you're well aware that there's far more to the "average" American than what CNN portrays. You may be proud to hail from a nation founded on a can-do ideology, but that doesn't mean you think you're superior — and this is your opportunity to explain yourself. You're an American, which means you may have complicated and sometimes conflicting views on health care, midterm elections, and Chris Rock monologues. What better forum for stimulating socio and geopolitical banter than a friendly international feast?

6. You can combat culture shock with food and drink.

By late November, you're about 12 weeks into your semester abroad, which means you've sailed through the honeymoon, frustration, and adjustment phases, now only feeling the burning embers of culture shock. But like any good psychosis, she can easily reignite given any trigger, whether it be a holiday, a photo, or a Sam Cooke song. All the more reason to extinguish those melancholic flames and respond YES to that Evite, exercising your right to surround yourself with friends, food, and international merriment. You've made it this far. Be proud of yourself, and celebrate.

Perhaps I pitched this article because I've been feeling nostalgic for the unfamiliar, searching for any excuse to scratch my perpetual international travel itch. While I'm grateful to be celebrating with a domestic clan of cousins I feel proud to call family this year, there will always be a large part of me longing for diversity, nostalgic for the unknown — ironic as that may be.

Images: Dave Appleby/Flickr; Giphy (5)