As the days led up to Thanksgiving, I was reminded of an instance that occurred at the very beginning of the semester. The NYU Sydney cohort was sat in the auditorium of our academic building as the staff went over introductory information, including our schedule of events for the next four months.
“What about Thanksgiving?” asked one student as the calendar for November was projected onto the screen. A staff member replied, “This isn’t America.”
That was a very fair point. We had left America to experience a new country, a new culture, a new world. Why would the people in charge of immersing us in their own ways of life plan something unrelated to them, something we chose to leave behind? I totally understood, but was still uneasy about the idea of completely skipping something that meant a lot to me. I can recall the routine of every Thanksgiving since I was very young. I’d wake up, walk downstairs and give my mom a big hug. We’d turn on the TV to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but I’d be the only one who actually ends up watching. My dad would be in the kitchen preparing to put the big turkey in the oven. At around noon, my brother would finally wake up and my mom would rush him out of the house so he wasn’t in the way. He’d usually go play football with some friends. I would get started on making the stuffing, a different recipe every year, and the sweet potatoes, always the same. Around 4PM, my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other random relatives and friends would begin to arrive, arms filled with presents as if it were Christmas. My mom would panic that the place still wasn’t ready, so my family members and I would help setting the table and putting the cheese platter together. After about an hour or two of chaos and laughter, we’d sit down and enjoy our enormous meal.
Although this Thanksgiving was nothing like the ones before, I still managed to celebrate. A fellow student had sent out a Facebook event invite titled “NYU does Thanksgiving” a few weeks prior. The event was to be held in the courtyard of our apartment building. I volunteered to make apple crumble cupcakes for dessert, while others offered to cook turkey, make mashed potatoes, bring cups and plates, etc. The morning of Thanksgiving, I walked over to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients I needed. I spent the next four hours making 24 perfect apple crumble cupcakes. By the time I had finished, the get-together was starting. None of my close friends in the cohort were going, so I was a little unsure how well the night would go. However, I ended up having the best time. I talked to people I didn’t know all that well, learned about others’ Thanksgiving traditions, tried versions of classic Thanksgiving foods that were quite different from how my family made them. We sat around the table and enjoyed each other’s company, feeling thankful for the time we had together, like a family. There was no point throughout the night that I felt like I was being cheated out of Thanksgiving.
The next morning, Thanksgiving was over for me but just starting for my family in New York. I noticed how my parents took advantage of the fact that I was away and went to a restaurant, something I would never allow. My mom called me on FaceTime and passed the phone along to all 20 of the people sitting along a massive square table. My granddad shouted into the phone how proud he was of me. My aunt asked me if I had met any nice Australian men yet. My cousins visiting from Ireland expressed their jealousy of the warm weather I was experiencing. I smiled when I saw my brother sitting next to my mom. I observed the normal chaos that occurs when all of us are together. As much as I would have loved to be sitting at that table, I didn’t feel any sadness or loneliness. Just gratitude. I’m so very thankful for this opportunity and for the people waiting for me when I return.