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Thanksgiving meal introduces UC Riverside international students to country, each other

By in Press Enterprise on November 22, 2017

By Ryan Hagen

They’re thousands of miles from home, separated from nearly everyone they know.

While most share Thanksgiving with family, these international students at UC Riverside gathered with each other to enjoy juicy turkey, fresh pumpkin pie and thankful conversations.

As with the first Thanksgiving, the first thing on many attendees’ minds was replacing their meager daily rations with a feast.

“I came because they sent an email saying there’d be food, and I can’t say no to that,” said Sebastian Lelo de Larrea, a graduate student from Mexico, drawing eager nods from other students at his table.

But the goal of the Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, event, which drew more than 200 people to UC Riverside’s Highlander Union Building, was bigger than calories.

Yongzan Zheng and Kaizhu Guo from China, Ali Ghohremannnezhad from Iran and Gianluca Bianchin from Italy play Pictionary at a Tuesday, Nov. 21, Thanksgiving meal for UC Riverside international students.

It was a way to welcome students who came to Riverside from around the globe — and who sometimes feel disconnected and lonely — to the United States and to each other, said Shanon Langlie, spokeswoman for the university’s International Affairs Office, which organized the meal.

“Food is such a universal element and a strong part of people’s identity,” Langlie said. “And it’s an easy way for people who are not as familiar with other cultures to get a taste.”

UC Riverside has 1,600 international students, including 1,100 graduate international students, from China, Taiwan, India and about 70 other countries, Langlie said. Most of them can’t fly home for the Thanksgiving break.

Many said they weren’t sure what to expect from the American holiday but hoped to deepen their connections with other students.

“I don’t know many people here,” said student Wei Li, who arrived in the U.S. for the first time two months ago […]    

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