“Thanksgiving and my Dad’s birthday always fall in the same week. I’d been in the UK less than a month when I had my first thanksgiving without my family, and I’ve never felt quite so far away from home! But I embraced it – and found some really lovely things to do to celebrate with my new friends here.”
When final year Law student, Natalie, told us this, we knew we needed to get her to share her advice! Natalie joined the University of Gloucestershire from Canada in September 2017, and is about to celebrate her third Thanksgiving in the UK. We asked her to tell us what it was like celebrating a big family festival so far from home, and how to make it memorable.
Written by Natalie Warren, 3rd year Law (Bachelor of Law)
I’ve been studying abroad in Gloucestershire, England in September 2017 and, ever since, I have become a supporter of any friends thinking of studying abroad! I have come to realise that never again will I have an opportunity like this. One of the best parts of being young is having the chance to pack a suitcase and decide to attend a university halfway across the world. Not long after getting started, I quickly realised that coming to the University of Gloucestershire was easily one of the best decisions of my life!
Coming from Western Canada, a lot of things about Cheltenham reminded me of home, but at the same time it is vastly different: mostly trying to remember which way to look before crossing the road…
As much as I love living here, I have definitely experienced homesickness. I found that the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (which falls on the 14 October this year) was difficult. For me, it was the first holiday I had spent away from my family and friends, and that was tough. Looking back, I realise that there are a lot of things I could have done to help with this, so I have completed this list for my future self, and for any North American students here feeling a little homesick for the Holidays.
Seven ways to celebrate Thanksgiving away from home
1. Eat a Thanksgiving dinner
One of my personal favourite things about living in England is that, every Sunday, most pubs and restaurants offer a ‘Sunday roast’: a meal made of all of the delicious home-cooked comfort foods a person could want!
You have the option of spending a little more or keeping the meal economical: the price to eat out is usually around £10-£15 per person. Try The Swan, The Retreat or The Exmouth Arms in Cheltenham, or The Tall Ship, Café René or The only (potential) down-side with going to a pub is that you will have to celebrate on a Sunday rather than the traditional Monday (Canada) or Thursday (USA).
If you need to spend a little less, you can make a roast dinner with your friends. I did this with a group of friends, we each pitched in £2 each and got a nice home-cooked roast dinner. It was also an opportunity to sit down with friends for an hour with only one rule: no one can do homework or talk about lectures!
2. Watch a Thanksgiving movie
If you tell anyone in England you want to watch the football game, I can promise they will not put on the Dallas Cowboys game, but a soccer game. Trying to find a way to watch a [American] football game here is difficult with the time zone difference, and can be expensive. Instead, I would suggest watching a football-inspired movie with a group of friends. I personally love watching The Blind Side because it is a classic feel-good movie that will help keep you in the Thanksgiving spirit!
3. Take advantage of Black Friday shopping!
As we all know, Christmas can be a ridiculously expensive time of year and as students we are all learning that the student budget can be a hard thing to stick to. Honestly, it makes shopping for Christmas a lot more difficult: you would love to buy everyone their dream gift, but simply cannot afford it… at all. All I can say is, take advantage of Black Friday deals! If you’re going to buy gifts, you may as well get a good deal!
4. Eat an autumn-inspired dessert
Since it is nearly impossible to find a pumpkin pie in England, it is a good idea to find a simple (and inexpensive) dessert idea for when you’re wanting to get in the Thanksgiving spirit without spending a lot. One of my personal favourites is simply taking an apple, a hint of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, then combining it all and putting it in the microwave. It honestly tastes like the epitome of autumn - top off with a scoop of ice cream if you’re feeling really indulgent!
5. Video call your family and friends
Video calling is one of the best inventions EVER for international students. Although it can be difficult with the time difference, it is one of the most comforting things to not only talk to family and friends, but actually see them too. Whenever I feel homesick, it is the best cure. It’s the instant feeling of familiarity that a person needs. Believe it or not, I probably talk to my parents more now than when I lived two hours from them (sorry, Mom!).
6. Go for a walk in Pittville Park (or any park near you!)
You will probably not be able to find a corn maze or (American) football game around Cheltenham, but luckily there is a beautiful park just across the road from the Pittville Student Village, where my halls of residence are, called Pittville Park. Also, the fact that the temperature here doesn’t drop below freezing until well into the winter months means that the autumn leaves hang around for a lot longer, making for a classic autumnal walk.
7. Be with your friends
After all, it is Thanksgiving, and the absolute best way to celebrate it is with people you care about. I have found that people in England, and especially at my university, are so open, curious and excited to learn about different cultures and holidays everyone celebrates. It may seem extremely obvious, but remember to include your new friends too. If you’re going to be here a few years, it is fun to start your own Thanksgiving traditions!
All of us at the University of Gloucestershire would like to wish a very happy Thanksgiving to all our staff and students in or from Canada and the USA!
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