Cross-Cultural Connections

UNI’s International Students Join Cedar Falls Community for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, the grand celebration that unites families and friends across the United States, is not just about turkey and pies. Tt’s a time to reflect on gratitude and share the abundance of blessings. This year, on the 23rd of November, the vibrant Cedar Falls community embraced the true spirit of Thanksgiving by extending a warm welcome to international students at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). In today’s article, we delve into the heartwarming story of how this close-knit community came together to create a memorable Thanksgiving for students from around the globe.

History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the United States was established by President Abraham Lincoln. On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday, setting the date as the final Thursday in November. Prior to this, Thanksgiving had been celebrated at various times and in different ways by individual states. Lincoln’s proclamation aimed to foster a sense of unity and gratitude during a challenging period in the nation’s history. Over time, Thanksgiving became a beloved and widely celebrated holiday, symbolizing a time for family, reflection, and expressions of gratitude.

The Essence of Thanksgiving in Cedar Falls

Thanksgiving, often celebrated as a feast with loved ones, took on a special meaning in Cedar Falls as the community opened its arms to those who might be far from home during this significant holiday. The warmth and hospitality extended by the Cedar Falls community created a sense of belonging for the international students, making them feel like they were part of a larger family. As the students expressed their gratitude for the experience, it became evident that Thanksgiving is not just about giving thanks for material possessions but also for the bonds formed and the connections forged.

Host families or conversation partners frequently pair up with UNI students, extending invitations for special events. These events provide international students with a glimpse into American culture. Today, I had the delightful opportunity to attend three Thanksgiving dinners. I am immensely grateful for the chance to experience the warmth of an American Traditional Thanksgiving dinner with these loving families.

Thanksgiving at Moonfire-Ridge at Professor Chris Schrage’s Acreage

In a thoughtful gesture, Professor Chris Schrage, the advisor of a student club, opened her home at the beautiful acreage in New Hartfield. Most of the club members and other students interested in celebrating a grand American Traditional Meal for lunch visited her. It’s truly remarkable to witness the compassion of Professor Schrage as she goes above and beyond to care for students who are far from their families, creating an environment that makes them feel at home.

Thanksgiving with Mr. & Mrs. Tiemessen

I had the pleasure of attending Thanksgiving lunch at Mr. and Mrs. Tiemessen’s. It is a special occasion made even more exciting by the fact that my host family is none other than Mrs. Tiemessen’s daughter, Cassandra. It was incredibly sweet of her to extend an invitation to her beautiful parents home in New Hampton, just an hour’s drive from Cedar Falls. The road trip itself was a delight, passing by cornfields, horse stables, and picturesque countryside.

Upon arriving, we were warmly welcomed by Mrs. Linda Tiemessen and her loving family. The time spent there was filled with engaging conversations and the enjoyment of delicious food. Before indulging in the feast, we each shared one thing we were grateful for. Personally, I expressed my gratitude for my loving family back in Sri Lanka. And my second family here in Iowa—Cassandra and her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Tiemessen. Following this, we said the Lord’s prayer and commenced the delightful meal.

I couldn’t resist sharing a bit of my Sri Lankan cuisine. I contributed fried rice and a cream caramel, adding a taste of my culture to the Thanksgiving table. Mrs. Tiemessen, an experienced host to many many international students over the years, shared captivating stories of her diverse experiences and connections. It was truly fascinating to hear about her interactions with students from around the world. And it’s evident why she’s renowned as an amazing host mom. The day was a testament to the Tiemessen family’s hospitality, creating lasting memories of warmth and camaraderie during this Thanksgiving celebration.

With my Amazing Host Family: Mrs. Linda Tiemessen, Mr. Tiemessen and Cassandra

Thanksgiving with Mr. & Mrs. Luck

I experienced the thrill of receiving an invitation to Mr. and Mrs. Luck’s Thanksgiving Dinner. A joy that only matched being in the company of Carla, the exceptional graduate student counselor at UNI International Admissions at the University of Northern Iowa and a dear friend of mine. Despite a late start on the drive, the happiness of reuniting with friends at Carla’s Thanksgiving celebration overshadowed any sense of time.

The Luck family, including Carla, Clyde, and their sons and daughters-in-law—Chad & Ashley and Conor & Taylor—opened their home with open arms, extending a warm welcome to all international students. Carla’s generosity and hospitality shone through, creating an atmosphere of gratitude and camaraderie. It’s evident that her big heart has left a lasting impression on the international student community. Carla is a beloved figure among all who have had the pleasure of knowing her. The evening was a testament to the power of connection and the warmth that can be found in shared moments of celebration.

A Traditional American Thanksgiving Feast
More pies of various kinds
Carla’s Mom Susan and their family & friends with International students
The amazing Hosts: Carla, Chad, Ashley, Theo and Clyde with International Student Nathaniel

Thanksgiving Hosted by Office of International Engagement

The Office of International Engagement hosted a heartwarming Thanksgiving Dinner on November 16th, bringing together a diverse community to celebrate the spirit of gratitude. Amidst the festivities, I had the privilege of extending an invitation to someone special. She is Ms. Sue Green, a retired math teacher and a beloved friend from Cedar Falls. Ms. Green holds a special place in my heart as during the summer, she generously shared her time, taking me to various events in Downtown Cedar Falls, creating cherished memories. Not only has she been a guide through the city’s activities. She’s also been a supportive friend, assisting in my language improvement journey. Inviting her to Thanksgiving was my way of expressing gratitude and celebrating her as more than just a friend but a cherished part of my Cedar Falls experience.

Thanksgiving is more than just a day marked by feasting. it is a celebration that beckons us to reflect on the values that make it truly special. As we gather with loved ones, whether family, friends, or newfound acquaintances, the essence of Thanksgiving becomes a tapestry woven with threads of joy, diversity, and unity.

If you haven’t checked out ‘How Host Families Enrich the Lives of International Students,’ click here and join the adventure!

One Comment

  • Sue Green

    Dinithi- You did an exceptionally good job of writing about all of your Thanksgiving meals! You and Yohan were blessed to experience these American Thanksgivings. Sue Green

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