International Day of Thanks

UM’s international students share cuisine and culture during the annual International Thanksgiving celebration.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 22, 2013) — Elizabeth Afonso grew up in Angola eating many of the southern African nation’s traditional foods like funge de bombo, a dish similar to mashed potatoes but made with yuca, and calulu, which is made with dried fish and vegetables.

On Friday, as Afonso sat at a table in the University of Miami’s Allen Hall courtyard, she was thrilled to share samples of her country’s cuisine with whoever wanted a taste.

“The food is terrific,” she said, “but the most important thing to experience is the culture.”

Afonso was among more than 200 students who participated in the UM Intensive English Program’s International Thanksgiving, an annual event at which students enrolled in the English-language skills program share foods and traditional customs from their homelands—from Middle Eastern machboos (spiced chicken and rice) and Brazilian brigadeiro (chocolate truffles) to songs, dances, and instrumental performances from Latin America and henna tattoos from the Middle East.

“This event is possible only because of you,” IEP’s executive director, Michelle Alvarez, said to students Friday before inviting them to “walk around the world,” referring to Allen Hall’s classrooms, which, for the event, were converted into showrooms filled with cuisine, photos and reading material of different countries.

With the colorful flags of several nations draped over the sides of Allen Hall’s second-floor railings, students did just that, walking from room to room to taste foods from Brazil, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other nations.

Many wore garments typically worn in their countries. Like Manami Kajiura, an IEP student from Yokohama, Japan, who wore a Yukata, a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric and made with straight seams and wide sleeves.

“We don’t have a holiday like Thanksgiving in Japan,” said Kajiura. “This event is wonderful. I’ve met students from all over the world and learned so much.”

Yerzhan Shyngayev, from Kazakhstan, stood in the classroom dedicated to his country and invited students and guests inside to try dishes such as Plov, which is made with rice, meat and vegetables. “It’s one our most popular,” he said.

This year’s International Thanksgiving held special meaning for Natalie Song. She was an IEP student in 2007 when she participated in the event, preparing Chinese dumplings and greeting guests. Now, she is a marketing coordinator in the program. “I was one of only two Chinese students in the program back then,” recalled Song, who, after completing her IEP courses, enrolled at UM and earned a degree in public relations and economics. “Today, we have over 70 Chinese students in the program.”

This year, more than 260 students from 27 countries are enrolled in IEP, a program Rebecca Fox, dean of the Division of Continuing and International Education, describes as an “extraordinary language school” that serves all kinds of international students—from those who are admitted to the University but lack the language skills to succeed academically to those who plan to enroll in schools based in their home countries.

“The curriculum makes it unique,” Fox said of IEP, noting that students are also immersed in American culture, going on field trips like Miami Heat basketball games. She called the International Thanksgiving her favorite time of the year. “Miami is, indeed, the world, and IEP is where it starts.”

Robert C. Jones Jr. can be reached at 305-284-1615.

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