This is a tale of a girl that had no choice but to turn her Thanksgivings abroad into mini adventures. There are many traditions you fail to realize you adore until you are unable to celebrate per usual. The history of Thanksgiving isn’t the rosiest. However, I never knew how warm and fuzzy it made me feel until I wasn’t in its atmosphere. There are two ways to go about getting through scenarios like these: mope about what you don’t have or, like the holiday suggests, be thankful for what you do have. I chose…read along
The first time. Picture it: me (Jeta) in Buenos Aires, Argentina during my semester abroad. Sans mac and cheese. Sans sweet potatoes. Sans cabbage. And, oh yea, sans that family of mine. Oh heeex to the naw! Initially, I did my share of mopping. After all, this was my first holiday away from home in my 21 years of living. But eventually, I embraced the change. And it ended up being a one of my most fun Thanksgivings to date.
I lucked out with my semester abroad. I made great friends and the program I studied through (International Studies Abroad) has a staff with hearts of gold. This made my experience much easier. The directors in Buenos Aires made sure all of us American students felt connected to home by arranging a massive office potluck. We were a diverse crew, so I remember eating guacamole, apple pie (which my family NEVER eats on Thanksgiving), empanadas, fruit parfait, etc. It was a hearty meal. Afterwards, we strolled around town and landed in a few bars, where I drank beer for the first time. Hated it!
When I got in, the phone call home went a little something like this:
Me: Heeeey! Happy Thanksgiving!
Ebony and Onyx: Yooooo. Feliz Thanksgiving!
Me: Y’all eat yet?
Ebony and Onyx: Yup
Me: Oh ok. Freeze me a plate.
Ebony and Onyx: HAHAHAHAA
Me: But I’m serious.
Ebony and Onyx: Ohhhhhh. Ok…
And just like that, I had the best of both worlds. Thawed my plate and gobbled it up as soon as I landed!
The second time. Picture it: me in Madrid, Spain during my first year as an “English teacher”. (I’ll explain another day why I used quotation marks in my job title.) My Dominican friend, Siury, was not familiar with the American-style Thanksgiving (even though she had been living in NYC for over 10 years). She had only eaten Dominican foods, so she decided to have a holiday bash at her flat, which basically meant mo’ potluck-ing. Let me tell ya. I was introduced to more American dishes than I knew existed. Green bean casserole – ubiquitous to some, foreign to me. Dressing – a southern staple. My initial thought, “why the flip does someone need to bring a specialized salad topping??” But no, it was similar stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Well, I wasn’t introduced to them but that’s another item that never makes my family’s Thanksgiving spread. I was on sweet potato duty and had to get creative. They sell “batatas” in Spain but not maple syrup. I scanned every aisle for something similar, which resulted in buying the caramel topping that is used in flan. Those batatas were deliciosas.
The party itself was packed with Americans, Germans, French, Brits and Australians. Somehow, more desserts came to the table than dinner entrees and sides. I tried a little bit of casserole and dressing. They were ok. I was distracted because there was a little bit of drama amongst guests. Too many drinks = unexpected fights and fallouts. That was another first. In my family, all we do is eat, laugh and go to sleep on Thanksgiving. Who has time for drama? But, it added to the Turkey Day adventures.
Pardon the blur in the pictures below 🙁
The third time. Picture it: me in Málaga, Spain during my second year as an “English teacher”. The pang of being away from familiar faces and foods had a lesser impact. I was a vet by then. My Siury was so excited by the previous year’s turnout, that she decided to have another party the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This time, I was on macaroni and cheese. Another moment of culinary resourcefulness. I couldn’t just go to the cheese aisle in Mercadona and find mild, sharp and cheddar. Noooo. I had to choose from queso ibérico, queso manchego, queso de cabra, queso de Gouda and a bunch of others I don’t remember. Needless to say, it was trial and error. I remember having to make two trips to get the right combo. When it all came together, I felt like I birthed a miracle. Considering there was none left after dinner, I’ll call it a success. One dish I thoroughly enjoyed was string beans with a brown sauce and sliced almonds. Would have never thought of that mix. I’m hunting down the recipe now.
Side note: I did attend a smaller dinner the day of Thanksgiving. After we ate, one of the Spanish girls asked, “So what happens now?” Stuffed and comatose, we said, “uhh nothing.” Her response was, “How strange. That never happens in Spain. Anytime we eat like this, there’s a party after!” Gotta love the Spanish. Always ready to rock until 6am.
After dinner on Saturday, we did hit the Málaga nightlife. But…again…party WHat? The only party I’m interested in after Thanksgiving involves pillows and eyelids. I didn’t last very long. I don’t know how I made in work while in Buenos Aires.
All in all, my Thanksgivings abroad were very memorable! Even though, they required some adjusting, the endings were sweet. In summary, if I had to advise anyone else how to have the same outcome, I’d say:
- Choose a happy ending. If you only see the gloomy side, of your experience, odds are that’s where it will stay.
- Turn it into an adventure! Being abroad during the holidays is an adventure itself. Make it more exciting by doing something you’ve yet to experience in that location. As simple as trying a new drink or skydiving. Up to you.
- Surround yourself with familial affection. It may not be handed to you but there are plenty of people that would also like to make their Thanksgiving abroad feel homely. Find ‘em. There’s probably even a Facebook group awaiting.
- Find foods similar to ones you’re used to. Every country has pasta. Every country has cheese. Every country has produce. You can absolutely make some sort of casserole or turn that flan topping into syrup and ball out.
- Have a meal waiting for you when you get home. I only did this once because I was going to return home shortly after. But no matter when you return, plan your arrival meal. If nothing else, it gives you something to look forward to.