Holidays offer opportunity for culture sharing

Sophomore Riley Gann (middle) and her parents and brother pose with sophomore Abdualwahab Aljohani (far left) for a photo during their 2015 Thanksgiving celebrations. Gann invited Aljohani, who is an international student from Saudi Arabia, to her house for the holiday. 

News Editor Kaitlyn Davis

Most students will pack up their belongings and head home to family and a feast for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, but some do not have this opportunity.

Many international students will spend the break on campus, said Coordinator for International Student Success Cala Flippo.

“International students will sit here (while) everybody goes home on Tuesday, and they’re here all weekend by themselves,” Flippo said.

If students are interested in making a friend by letting an international student experience the holidays at their house, they can contact the International Affairs Office at 256-765-4626, Flippo said.

Last year, sophomore Riley Gann made sure her friend sophomore Abdualwahab Aljohani did not have to spend Thanksgiving in the residence halls.

“I had met him at the very beginning of the year, and we just became best friends,” Gann said. “He had nowhere to go so I was like, ‘You’re always welcome to come with me.’”

Aljohani said in an email he enjoyed experiencing Thanksgiving at Gann’s house.

“My favorite part was when the whole family got together and every one of them had to say what they are thankful for,” he said. “I like it. It’s so meaningful and different.”

Watching Aljohani’s reaction to tasting their Thanksgiving meal was funny, and he would compare the food to his back home, Gann said.

Home is Saudi Arabia for Aljohani, and he said although they do not celebrate Thanksgiving, they do have a similar holiday, Eid Mubarak, where they share a meal with family.

Not only was the food different for Aljohani, but Gann’s family dynamic was unfamiliar to him as well, Gann said.

“Over there, there’s no middle class,” she said. “There’s just lower and upper. He’s in the upper class. they have maids and servants, and they get everything handed to them.

“For me, my parents are all like, ‘You’re going to work for this.’ So, that was a big change for him.”

But the change was positive because Aljohani befriended Gann’s family, Gann said.

“He loves my family and friended my brother on Instagram and Snapchat and will play with him on Xbox Live,” she said.

Becoming friends with someone from a different country has been beneficial for Aljohani, he said.

“It makes me more open-minded, and I love to see different cultures and different places,” Aljohani said. “With international friends, every day is a new adventure, and for sure, I will learn something new.”

Aljohani has taught Gann so much, like how to have a better understanding of a different culture, she said.

“When you actually spend time with (international students), you realize they are like a fish out of water. They’re just trying to fit in, and you have to understand that. I know it’s hard for them to come over here and be completely cut off from their family and their friends.”

Having to constantly immerse themselves in a foreign culture can be tiresome, Gann said.

“They’re thousands of miles away, and they’re in a whole new country (with a) new language,” she said. “It’s really hard for them to listen to English all day and be stuck in it and to have English food and friends.”

Friendships are often difficult for international students to make, Gann said.

“They need friends,” she said. “it’s lonely for them and a big culture shock. You learn probably way more from them than they do from you. It (also) helps you get past the stereotypes, especially with Saudi Arabia and Muslims.”