The Catholic University of America

Nov. 18, 2010

International Students Enjoy Global Fare at Multicultural Thanksgiving

  Sophomores Sarah Funes and Andy Berrocal chat with Ryan-Allen McKinney, associate director of campus activities.

As he enjoyed a plate of turkey and rolls, freshman Germinal Van said that hearing people speak English shortly after he arrived in Washington, D.C., last August somehow drove home the realization that he was no longer in west Africa.

On Nov. 17, Van, a politics major from the Ivory Coast, celebrated another new experience — a Thanksgiving dinner. Dressed in a suit, Van said he felt honored to celebrate the American tradition at Catholic University. “And the food is very good,” he added with a smile.

Van was among about 75 students, faculty and staff who attended CUA’s Multicultural Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner. Held at Caldwell Hall Auditorium, the event was designed to bring together international students who might not have experienced Thanksgiving in their own countries and to raise awareness of multiculturalism.

The dinner also accommodated a group whose numbers are growing at CUA. In fall 2008, there were 324 international students and scholars at CUA, according to Roy Braine, CUA’s new director of international student and scholar services. This fall, the number has increased to approximately 440, he notes. Of those, 120 are undergraduates.

The idea to host the multicultural event came up during a conversation between Braine and Ryan-Allen McKinney, associate director of campus activities who is in charge of leadership and multicultural programming for students.

McKinney, whose heritage is Irish, and Braine, who is from Sri Lanka, talked about the foods that are common to their dinner tables. “I talked about mashed potatoes,” said McKinney. “Roy mentioned curry, which my Irish family wouldn’t typically serve.”

Doctoral student Jufang Tseng enjoys the potluck with her daughter, Li-Chien.

McKinney noted that a conversation about different foods is often “the start of cultural exploration. We usually learn about the value of our background and how it shapes us over family dinner. We thought a meal, and especially a Thanksgiving dinner, would be a great way to bring our international students together.”

At the potluck, members of the CUA community dined on a traditional American-style turkey, a curry-flavored turkey, pork fried rice, and sorrel, a drink enjoyed in Grenada during the Christmas season made of hibiscus, cinnamon, sugar, and water. The music of different cultures, including Spanish, Arabic and African, filled the auditorium.

Braine pointed out that a Thanksgiving dinner brings together international students at a time of year when it’s starting to get cold and they might be feeling homesick.

Jufang Tseng, a doctoral student in religion and culture from Taiwan, said she was grateful for the dinner. Tseng, who’s been studying at CUA for almost four years, said she recalls feeling isolated when she first moved to Washington.

“Every year since I arrived, there have been more events for international students at CUA,” said Tseng, as she sat at a table with her husband, a Howard University doctoral student, and bounced her 10-month-old daughter, Li-Chien, in her lap.

“It can be quite difficult for international students to blend in with American culture and to get to know American students,” she said. “At events like this, we can share a traditional American experience.”


Catholic University’s Multicultural Thanksgiving Potluck was sponsored by the Office of Campus Activities, the Center for Global Education and the Council for Cultural Exploration.

More news from CUA