25 Things I Learned Having Thanksgiving Abroad

When studying abroad, the people you're with quickly become your family away from home. | Photo by Angela Day
When studying abroad, the people you’re with quickly become your family away from home. | Photo by Angela Day

Written by Angela Day

On Friday, November 25, I celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from home and my first Thanksgiving in China. In order to stave off the homesickness that settled over us at the start of the holiday season, the 40 students in my program all worked together to make an enormous feast.

With a large majority of us being American, we thought this would be something familiar in the midst of all of the new things we’ve tried in China. We learned quickly that we were very wrong. This is what else we learned:

  1. It is perfectly acceptable to serve kimchi, mac n’ cheese, chili, sushi, rabbit head, spaghetti and seafood alongside turkey and mashed potatoes.
  2. Foreign import stores, in addition to being few and far between, are also extremely expensive.
  3. Cheese is hard to acquire, and will probably cost more than your college tuition — but the mac’n’cheese is definitely worth it.
  4. Sometimes you have to make up for the lack of chili powder with Sichuan pepper powder and just roll with it.
  5. Most Chinese kitchens do not have ovens, and the sole oven in our program’s possession is likely on the verge of explosion.
  6. This being said, sometimes no-bake cookies are a better option than pumpkin pie (it sounds like blasphemy, but just trust us on this one).
  7. Physics does not allow for ten harried Americans to successfully cook in a single apartment kitchen at a time, no matter how hard you try.
  8. However, if you do decide to try, shrieking a warning every time you are wielding a knife or steaming pan is ridiculous but 100 percent necessary to prevent injury.
  9. A good soundtrack makes everything better.
  10. If your dinner lineup includes fish, you should probably make it last because the kitchen will smell like ocean for the rest of the night.
  11. There’s no use crying over spilled pasta. Or broccoli. Or rice. Shrimp, however, might be worthy of a few tears (yes, we learned this the hard way).
  12. In the event you forget to buy a can opener, you can, after great effort, open a can of kidney beans by stabbing it with a butter knife.
  13. Sometimes it’s a blessing to not have a smoke detector in your apartment kitchen (don’t tell the firefighters we said that).
  14. Pots, pans, lids and tin foil wrappers are all acceptable replacements for bowls and plates.
  15. Rather than using the dulled knives provided by the previous apartment residents to cut the cooked turkeys, it is much simpler to just rip it apart with your hands.
  16. It is also much simpler to wipe your hands on your friend’s back under the guise of a hug than to find paper towels in Chinese convenience stores.
  17. Yes, you can eat mashed potatoes with chopsticks.
  18. Watching your mother and/or aunt cook a dish twice makes you an expert on that dish.
  19. Watching a YouTube video last minute on how to cook a dish also makes you an expert on that dish.
  20. If you’re worried that you won’t have enough food to feed 40 hungry college students, just remember that Americans make an excessive amount of food at Thanksgiving, no matter where they are. You will always have more than enough food.
  21. If the zucchinis look more like strange, miniature, lime green fruit, don’t worry. They’re just Chinese zucchinis in disguise.
  22. Kvass, the Slavic bread drink popular in certain parts of China, is ranked amongst China’s top ten disgusting drinks, but is actually quite tasty. It is, more or less, that bakery aroma captured in drinkable form, and everyone should experience it.
  23. Underneath all of the joking amongst friends and the excitement of potentially dangerous experimental cooking, it can still be really hard to spend the holiday season away from your family.
  24. You can actually come to miss Ohio’s irritable weather and pothole-ridden roads while being surrounded by Chengdu’s mild weather and lively city atmosphere.
  25. But being filled with good food — no matter how non-traditional — and being surrounded by people you love can be just as amazing of an experience. I have a lot to be thankful for this year, and these wonderful people are at the top of that list.
A Thanksgiving to remember — thousands of miles from home. | Photo by Angela Day
A Thanksgiving to remember — thousands of miles from home. | Photo by Angela Day
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