With turkey, pumpkin pie, ice cream and a salad on the table Sunday afternoon, Xiulan Li said she knew this year’s Thanksgiving meal would make her feel at home.
Li, a research assistant in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, remembered her first Thanksgiving in the U.S. in 2009, when she enjoyed delicious Thanksgiving food surrounded by her American host family.
China Outreach Ministries for the Twin Cities, a Christian organization, invited Chinese students to have a meal with American host families on Sunday and learn the meaning of Thanksgiving.
Ninety-three Chinese students were paired with 46 American host family members by COM for the day. Chinese students had a meal in their host families’ homes and attended a program at Bethlehem Baptist Church to learn the historical origin, traditional foods and meaning behind the holiday.
Glenn Kenadjian, the Twin Cities director of COM, said the goal of the event was to show love and care for Chinese students and scholars and to provide them an opportunity to explore Christianity.
“We let people know that all the hosts are from church,” Kenadjian said. “And so we would hope that they get exposed to this positive thing, but if they want to seek [more information] about this Christianity thing, we would be ready to talk to them about that.”
For both American host families and Chinese students, the program is an opportunity to learn each other’s culture, see the world from different views and build relationships.
Since 1994, COM has provided different social activities to Chinese students, like ice skating trips and friendship dinners. Last summer, COM contacted more than 230 new Chinese students.
Bob Kraftson, a volunteer coordinator at COM who matched Chinese students to host families, said the program provides Chinese students with a cross-cultural experience, sparks their interests in Christianity and provides a platform to learn about the religion.
Julie Hunt, a volunteer for COM, invited six Chinese students to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal in her home this year. She said it was a “blessing” to meet them.
“You are all my kids,” she told them.
Zhanren Li, a first-year doctoral candidate student in chemical engineering, said the program gave him a chance to learn about Christianity, American culture and food.
For many of the students, it’s also an opportunity to share their culture.
After the church program, Li said he taught his host family how to cook some Chinese dumplings that they had bought.
COM also helps new Chinese students when they first arrive in the U.S. with airport pick-up and temporary housing.
This summer, COM helped 100 Chinese students connect with 65 American host families. Chinese students can stay in their host families’ homes for as long as two weeks. During that time, the host families help the students get ready for school by taking them to IKEA and Target for furniture and supplies, dropping them off on campus to enroll in classes and helping them find permanent housing.
Xiulan Li has known her host family for almost three years since she first came to Minneapolis in 2009. She said she still remembers the week she spent with her host family — the Hunts.
Julie Hunt and her family helped her set up a TCF banking account, telephone cards and even found her an apartment.
Kraftson said that he gets incoming Chinese students’ email addresses from the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars. Then, COM contacts the students.
Kenadjian, who visited China in 1996, said he hoped host families and Chinese students could develop a long-term relationship and on-going friendship — just like the song performed during the program Sunday:
“Love in any language,
Straight from the heart,
Pulls us all together,
All once we learn to speak it
All the world will hear
Love in any language
Fluently spoken here.”