Lehigh’s inaugural Friendsgiving event took place Saturday evening in the University Center, bringing together international and domestic students to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
The event, sponsored by various campus offices, was organized by International Friendship Families, a group that works to help international students become more acclimated to the campus climate. The idea behind Friendsgiving has existed for a few years, but it was not possible until now with all of the funding from the various sponsors.
“Building environments where everyone is welcome and everyone feels a part of the community regardless of their labels (is the goal),” Aarsenio Perry, an assistant director of student activities said. “So if you see someone in class you don’t just look at them and say, ‘Oh, that is an international student.’ No, that is a human being.”
The students involved with the event were also enthusiastic about possibly bridging the gap between the international and domestic students.
“I am most excited to meet new people,” Ryan Spirko, ’17, said. “There are a lot of faces around Lehigh that you do not necessarily see everyday in the things you’re involved with, so (I look forward to) being able to meet new friends and have a good time with no stress with people you don’t know.”
The event was a chance to give international students insight into American culture as well as a way to celebrate the holiday even if they are far from home.
“I feel like it is a good thing because I am 24 hours away from home so I don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family,” Rwandan student Sheilla Rukundo, ’17, said. “So I feel like it is a really great act of love to have people think about us. It truly means a lot.”
Lehigh takes on a responsibility in terms of getting international students acclimated to the campus culture as their homesickness can be intense coming from so far and knowing few people.
“We wanted to build this so that international students, because they have a close network within themselves, (could) expand their networks along with domestic students’ networks in building friendships,” Perry said.
The Friendsgiving dinner gave these students the opportunity to meet new people from the Lehigh community.
Carol Hill, the director of student center facilities, said that at the event, there were tables at which attendees could mingle and get to know one another through conversation and activities. Some of the activities included trivia, writing notes about things to be thankful for and sharing conversation cards over dinner. There was also a map in which students put a pin in the place they were born.
Perry said the Friendsgiving event is much more then dinner and activities.
“I think one of the biggest things (Friendsgiving) represents is an inclusive community and that is one of Lehigh’s goals, to bridge and build an equitable community for everyone,” he said.
Perry acknowledges that though we strive for an inclusive community, it is not always achieved.
“We wanted to make sure that international students that are usually left out of things that happen on campus, that we build that bridge and bring them into the more of the fold of the celebrations,” he said.
Perry hopes that Friendsgiving will give way to the creation of more events of a similar nature on campus by “alleviating some of those labels that hinder people from becoming more connected throughout.”