Chancellor's Blog

International Thanksgiving

Global Gratitude

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 | by Dean Van Galen

Over the years, many people have told me that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Perhaps it is the harvest-inspired food, the time spent with family and friends, or the absence of any expectation for exchanging of gifts. I think it is also the way Thanksgiving invites us to step back from our daily routines and reflect with gratitude on the many good things in our lives.

On Sunday evening in the Ann Lydecker Living and Learning Center, Mary and I hosted what has become an annual event at UW-River Falls: the International Student Thanksgiving Dinner. This year, 70 international students from over a dozen different countries gathered, joined by a few friends from campus and the broader community, to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and learn about this American holiday. Collectively, those students travelled about 400,000 miles to live and study at UW-River Falls. At the event, many stories were exchanged regarding how other cultures celebrate harvest-time or designate special holidays for appreciation and gratitude.

Our international students seemed to appreciate hearing about the popular origins of the holiday, as well as how President Abraham Lincoln first declared a U.S. national "day of thanksgiving and praise" in 1863 at the height of the Civil War. They were particularly amused by the story of how in 1989, President George H.W. Bush began the tradition of granting a presidential pardon to one turkey who then lives out the rest of its days at a beautiful historic estate in Virginia.

With events like this I am reminded not only of our university's commitment to global education and engagement, but also of the value of providing opportunities for all diverse people and communities to respectfully come together. Opportunities like this are important, enhancing understanding and helping us learn to tolerate and even appreciate differences. This Thanksgiving, such ideals seem more important than ever.    

Part of the university's mission is to provide our students the opportunity to learn about those with different backgrounds and perspectives from their own. Interacting with people who are different from us is a great reminder of the value of all types of intercultural experiences, be they exposure to other political systems, religions, ethnicities, traditions, or nationalities. It is in this way that we learn the most about the many human traits and values that we all share. One such universal human trait and value is to feel and express gratitude. In that spirit, I would like to wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving, with ample time to reflect on all for which we can be truly grateful this year.