The holidays are the hardest time to be abroad and Thanksgiving is the first big one. The one where you realize you won’t be seeing your family this year and instead, you’re millions of miles away, most likely in a country that doesn’t celebrate the same customs as you.
This can seem isolating at first, but I’ve found that Thanksgiving abroad is a wonderful way to bond with new friends and to share American festivities with people whose only knowledge of Thanksgiving comes from the themed episodes of Friends or Hollywood movies.
I’ve had SEVEN Thanksgivings abroad, in five different countries, and each one was extremely special to me. Now that I’m home in California, for my first, truly American Thanksgiving in a long time, I’m enjoying looking back at the thrown together way I celebrated Turkey Day in foreign lands.
I was studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden and it was first Thanksgiving away from home ever! The large, American student population decided to throw a potluck Thanksgiving dinner in one of the large corridors and we must have invited around twenty people. Sweden, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Canada, and more countries were all represented.
It was a great idea to do a potluck (as it always is when abroad) because no one’s kitchen had the capacity to cook a whole Thanksgiving meal and we were all poor students. Sweden didn’t have turkeys, so we ate Swedish meatballs instead. Bruschetta was a surprise side dish and we ended up watching the only English movie we could find on the television: Indiana Jones. That movie now weirdly means Thanksgiving for me.
We each made handprint turkeys saying what we were thankful for and drank copious amounts of wine and Absolut vodka with cranberry juice. I can’t say I missed home once.
I had two Thanksgivings in South Korea and I decided to host the first one. The main factors in me hosting: I was the only person with an oven and an apartment that didn’t look like a closet. Most teachers in Korea had a studio, but I at least had a bedroom/living room and a separate kitchen with a dining table area.
I borrowed folding chairs from my school and used my students as child labor, I mean decoration makers. My friend, Mary, from California, came to stay with me and help out. This added a sweet element of family to the whole thing.
Yet again, we had a potluck and no turkey. There was chicken, mashed potatoes, pizza, and donuts….things got weird. The South Africans didn’t really get what we were going for, but they sure brought a lot of booze. And a harmonica.
We stood in a circle before dinner and passed around a bottle of champagne. Each person had to take a swig and share what they were thankful for. We obviously were not concerned with the health violations of this. It was a hilarious moment, with most of my friends sharing inappropriate thankfulness, but many of us expressing real thankfulness for our new friends that were becoming a family.
…Oh, and then everyone went out to party and I did the dishes. #hostlife
The second Korean Thanksgiving, I was also highly involved in because my new apartment had the only oven. My friend Kristy prepared the turkey, while I stood by making videos filled with innuendos about her “slapping the bird”.
We rented out a bar with an industrial dishwasher so life was looking good. The bar had Native American paintings on the wall so we didn’t even have to decorate! On our way to the bar, in a taxi, my friend Ruben started screaming that the turkey was “juicing on his pants!” The taxi driver was not amused and Ruben was not happy about the turkey juice all over him..
We’d all upgraded from last Thanksgiving and the food was spot on. Turkey, potatoes, pies, green beans, etc. We were well fed and thankful.
In Spain, everyone lived in houses, which made a Thanksgiving dinner much more accessible. But yet again, turkey was not available. No matter, because we had jamon, chicken, cheeses, Spanish tortilla, pasta, crepes, apple pies, carrot cake, banana bread….yeah the menu got eclectic again…but damn, if it wasn’t delicious.
The girls throwing the dinner made a Thankfulness tree, where we all wrote what we were thankful for on paper, colorful leaves and hung them up. It was nice to see a mix of English and Spanish hanging there. We were mostly Americans, English, and Spaniards, but we were all drunk by the end of the night 😉
Somehow, I ended up hosting Thanksgiving again. I think I get worried that no one will do it, so I volunteer. There were only seven of us, making it manageable, and we titled the event, “Janksgiving”. It was a pretty janky affair. We sat in camping chairs and ate grapes out of a cooking pot as an appetizer. I had made cranberry sauce and poured it on a Costco cheesecake, while sitting on the ground near a pile of shoes. Someone made pasta and my friend Jon thought mixing apple cider and whiskey was a good idea. It was not.
We laughed a whole lot, went to a farm party out in the woods in the evening, and although it wasn’t a fancy dinner, those people are still some of my best friends in the world. A thankful Thanksgiving indeed.
The second Thanksgiving in Taiwan was hosted in a room of an apartment building and we learned from our mistakes. Rotisserie chicken, homemade pumpkin pie, maple glazed carrots, mulled wine, etc. The women slaved away in the kitchen most of the time, while the men….did something 😉 It was another special Thanksgiving with old friends and new.
I’d only been in Phuket, Thailand for less than a month when Thanksgiving rolled around. I wasn’t totally settled in and felt unsure on how to celebrate. I researched it up and found that CC’s Hideaway, a hotel, was hosting a dinner. I didn’t have a kitchen to speak of and neither did my friends, so Anna, Kari, and I took a taxi down some creepy ass, dark backroads, and found a little oasis of a hotel.
It was awkwardly romantic with candles and classical music and we were definitely the only loud, giggly people in the place. But, the food, oh my god, the food. The best I’d had abroad. Surprisingly, the owner was Australian, but the food was pure America. Turkey, roasted vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, personal pumpkin pies, and a free cocktail when we arrived. We ate so much that we could hardly move.
It was certainly the least festive Thanksgiving I’d ever had. No one at my school was American, so it felt as though it wasn’t even Thanksgiving, I didn’t get the chance to do a Thanksgiving lesson with my students, and our get-together was quite small. But Anna and Kari turned out to be my best friends while in Phuket and we definitely bonded over our love of good food and searching out the weird things in Phuket
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to be with family and in a beautiful area of California for this holiday. I’ll miss my janky Thanksgivings abroad, but I’m looking forward to a big meal and going hiking along the beach (and also not wearing that flower dress that I apparently wear for every event in my life).
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!