The month of November opened the holiday season with Thanksgiving. During that time, one is reminded of what matters in life and that living in a state of gratitude brings joy and fulfillment. Today, rather than pondering what gifts I may receive, I give thanks for all the gifts which are already present.
Being able to share outside of the classroom moments with our ESLI at UMD students is one of these gifts. For Thanksgiving, I invited students to my home to share our family feast. We had the privilege to spend the evening with four students who brought more cheer and cultural diversity to our table. The students had the opportunity to experience a traditional holiday celebration and taste different dishes typically served on the day of Thanksgiving. Upon arriving, the students kindly gave me a bouquet of flowers, which later decorated our table, and some Chinese tea and souvenirs, but their most precious gift was their presence and stories. After dinner, we played a question game which entails asking and answering questions around the table. That exchange of thoughts and experiences was colorful and enriching for everyone involved. Yunyun, Ngoc, Jiaqi, and Wenxin came to our program to enhance their English language skills, but by being open to new adventures, they had the chance to immerse themselves in our traditions and show us a different side of their personalities. During the evening, the warmth in the room was felt by all of us, and it wasn’t just coming from the burning logs in the fireplace.
The following week, Ngoc accompanied my family and me to a holiday village display where I introduced her to her first s’more and local crafts. In addition to that, Ngoc and my daughter hugged the biggest bunny they have ever seen. The next day, we all went to visit an Art Exhibit. That experience was also very beneficial for Ngoc because she enjoys art, and the show was displayed at the artist’s house which is an old historical home in Duluth. She had an opportunity to talk to the artist and witness the creativity throughout her home.
Our international students embark on a courageous journey when they decide to go to the United States to study. They slowly adapt to the new culture, language, and rituals. Eventually, they start adopting some of the American customs and mingling with the local people. It is wonderful to witness how they expand their vision and perspectives. Actively contributing to this process of growth and enrichment and personally benefitting from the exchange by also learning new aspects of a different culture is the most valuable gift. The attitude of gratitude can carry one through whatever life brings.
Kremena Popov, ESLI Director for UMD