Foreigners settling in America celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans who taught them how to survive. Weatherford College staff and volunteers are recreating this sentiment by breaking bread with international students this Thanksgiving season.
James Frailey of the Christian organization International Students, Inc. is leading the effort to invite international students into willing local homes on Thanksgiving Day so that all may join in on the festivities. In addition, WC hosted a Thanksgiving feast for international students on Tuesday.
WC’s International Student Organization sponsor Deborah Jogie-Cregger spearheaded the feast and invited international students to bring dishes from their native countries and share their own Thanksgiving traditions if any.
“For instance, I am from Grenada, and we do celebrate Thanksgiving, but ours is more of a political, kind of, approach,” Jogie-Cregger said. “We do rallies, military parades and street partying because many years ago we had a bloody coup, and President [Ronald] Reagan and the American troops intervened, and we celebrate Oct. 25, as a way of saying ‘thank you.’”
At the college, the international student body represents a total of 26 different countries from all continents except Antarctica, Jogie-Cregger said. WC has about 67 international students, excluding those who are working on getting their citizenship in the U.S.
WC’s international student organization has been dormant, and Jogie-Cregger is trying to revitalize it. The feast allowed the students to be engaged and share culture.
“One of our main themes here is a culture of care, and that is definitely one way to show them that we do care about them,” Jogie-Cregger said. “At the same time, we too can learn from them.”
In the future, Jogie-Cregger said she would like to see a program where international students are paired with middle school and high school students for mentoring.
“We could take this really great resource we have out to the community, not just leave it here on campus because having 26 countries here, that’s a very diverse body of international students, and there’s so much they can share with us,” Jogie-Cregger said. “There is so much we can learn from them, even those in the community can learn from them.”
During the feast, WC Vice President of Instruction and Student Services Michael Endy read a poem by Micky ScottBey Jones called “An Introduction to Brave Space.” The poem invites people to connect with each other to make the world a better place. Endy said he hoped that the feast would encourage students to share their cultures and experiences.
“A college that is homogeneous, or perceived to be, needs diversification,” Endy said. “That isn’t always dependent on skin color or anything else. It’s dependent on sharing different experiences. One of the things we hope will come out of this is that we get students from East Texas talking to students from West Texas, and realize that Texas is not only big, it’s also very, very different.”
Frailey and his wife Paige started volunteering with International Students, Inc. about 28 years ago. Frailey had gone on a trip to Hong Kong that “opened [his] eyes to the rest of the world,” he said.
Frailey said he saw plenty of poverty at the time of his trip and people who no longer had hope.
“I like to think of it as my eyes were focused on maybe three or four steps in front of me, and the people around me, but I didn’t really have an understanding of the bigger global picture and the plight of people who are different than us and in a different part of the world from us,” Frailey said.
After this trip, Frailey decided he wanted to develop relationships with international students, particularly the Asian community present at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth where he and his wife were living at the time.
International Students, Inc. pairs up American families with international students, and the family checks on the student periodically. Though some international students have a desire to learn about American culture, the majority are not invited into American homes, Frailey said.
“A lot of them leave sort of disappointed that way,” Frailey said. “They may have gotten their degree, but they really didn’t grow as close to America as they desired.”
Frailey has organized for international students to share the Thanksgiving holiday with local families. He is also organizing something similar for the Christmas break to connect families with international students.
“That Thanksgiving week there won’t be any classes, so they’ll be staying there at the dorms and sometimes all of their American teammates go home for the Thanksgiving break, and so we’ll be offering to the students an opportunity to be included in an American family Thanksgiving meal,” Frailey said.
Some international students go on to be world leaders, and American families can impact those students, Frailey said. Having a community in America can be the difference that leads international students to success.
“It’s such an important thing to be a good host,” Frailey said. “We like to be gracious and be good hosts in our families and in our homes. Well, scale that up to our country. When these international students come to us, we are hosting them. We want to befriend them, be sensitive and aware.”