TWU goes the extra mile to make American students feel at home on U.S. Thanksgiving holiday

Langley, British Columbia—While Brian Gagliardi will miss being at home this year to celebrate American Thanksgiving with his family in Freeport, Illinois, he’ll at least enjoy a turkey dinner with friends north of the border on November 22. Gagliardi, a second-year computer science student at Trinity Western University, is one of several U.S. students who will take part in Trinity Western’s American Thanksgiving dinner. The event, running for its third year this November, is intended to make American students feel more at home during their stay in Langley.

“Thanksgiving is a big event for our family,” says Gagliardi. “The whole extended family on the Gagliardi side gets together for it.”

With Americans accounting for approximately one-third of more than 3,000 students at TWU, American Thanksgiving is a celebration that Terry-Lynn Dryfhout, TWU’s special events coordinator, sees as important in helping students cope with being hundreds of miles away from home at a time when families are usually together.

“We try to make it as homey as possible,” says Dryfhout, who organizes the dinner. “We’ve even polled American parents to see what they have around their table on Thanksgiving, so we can try to replicate it.”

The American Thanksgiving event began three years ago, when TWU staff responded to a call from parents in the U.S. “They wondered if there was something we could do for their child who couldn’t make it home for the holiday,” says Heather Thomson, director of parent relations at TWU. “The dinner started off small. After that year, we incorporated it into the Touch of Home program, and it’s really taken off.”

TWU’s Touch of Home program has enabled parents to share a piece of home with their children at Thanksgiving and throughout the year, with opportunities to send students everything from gift baskets and mugs, to flowers and candies on special occasions. Proceeds from Touch of Home packages ordered for midterm or final exams support a crisis hotline manned by TWU students in conjunction with Youth Development International.

“It’s that extra touch that makes parents feel more connected when they aren’t able to be here,” explains Thomson, who began the Touch of Home program. “We even have a get well mug that parents can arrange for if their child is sick.”

Being a long-distance parent is an experience that Thomson can relate to. “When our first son came out to Trinity Western, we lived 3,000 miles away,” says Thomson, whose family made their home in Ontario at the time. “We felt so out of touch.”

After relocating to the Lower Mainland, Thomson launched TWU’s parent’s program to help relieve some of the anxiety that long-distance parents experience. It was also Thomson who coined the idea for an American Thanksgiving dinner.

“Parents are able to be a part of this dinner in their own way, and feel a sense of community even when they’re miles away,” says Thomson. “And the students love it.”

If Brian Gagliardi’s response is any indication, Thomson is right. This will be Gagliardi’s second American Thanksgiving dinner, as he attended last year’s event.

“It’s good to get together with other people, rather than just going to the cafeteria to eat,” he notes, adding, “And the food is really good.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,000 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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