UCI serves up Thanksgiving to international students


IRVINE – UC Irvine students made their way to the Pippin Commons Dining Hall Thursday afternoon for a Thanksgiving lunch.

A buffet-style spread was laid out, and students made their way through the line, piling their plates high with turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pies.

Freshman Ann Chen was skeptically piling some unusual treats onto her plate.

“This is my first Thanksgiving,” she said, scooping up some sweet potato casserole.

She took a bite.

“Super good.”

Like many others at the lunch, Chen is an international student. She is from Hangzhou, China, and been in the U.S. for just three months.

Since 2009, the university has invited students who can’t make it home for the holiday to give thanks together over a free turkey lunch. This year, more than 300 attended.

At the end of the buffet line, a cook asked each student where they are from. One said L.A. Another said India. Another chuckled, held up a slice of turkey and pointed at it – “I’m from Turkey,” he said.

Siavash Ebrahimi and Sarah Ahmadi haven’t been home in almost four years. The two are from Iran and in their fourth year of graduate studies.

“We can’t go home, because of government sanctions,” Ahmadi said. “Our parents both come and visit sometimes. I haven’t seen my siblings in four years, though.”

Because of nuclear activities in Iran, the U.S. and other countries have imposed sanctions to censure the country. Those make it difficult for Iranian students to go home and return.

“We’re always a little homesick,” Ebrahimi said about international students. “Eating a holiday lunch together here makes it a little less lonely.”

Despite being homesick, Ebrahimi said there was a lot he was thankful for.

“I really like it here,” Ebrahimi said. “There’s really no difference between the people. We thought there would be a big difference, but we’re all the same. We’re all humans.”

Another student from Iran, freshman Nader Beigiparast, said he expects he won’t see his family for another four or five years. So Skype, which allows him to talk and see his relatives via a computer screen, is one of the things he is thankful for this year.

“I’m always thankful for my friends and family,” Beigiparast said, “Even though they’re far away, they always encourage me and support me.”

Visiting scholars Ning Yu and Wei Xu are a married couple from China living on campus with their 4 year-old son. Yu’s mother and father flew here for the holiday season, and her family experienced Thanksgiving for the first time.

“We have an American-immersion class, and we study and learn about music, cuisine, arts and things,” Yu said. “Before Thanksgiving they held a program introducing us to the traditional Thanksgiving food.

“So today when I came here I thought, ‘Oh, these traditional meals I’ve heard of before.’”

The couple said they really enjoyed the food. Their boy was pretty quiet – he was busy eating.

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