January 30, 2018

Well this is going to be terrible, I thought.

My first thanksgiving abroad and I was stranded in the cafe of Cardiff Met with three heavy bags of failed attempts at mashed butternut squash and uncooked vegetables. Students around me cooly walked by with the typical yet suave Cardiff Met tracksuits, and there I was in a festive dress, high heels, and lipstick trying hard to emphasize the lips that were trying very hard to smile. All dressed up with no place to go, and boy I was feeling silly.

As any carefully planned holidays go, nothing was going to plan. The plan, or should I say the tradition of my family’s Thanksgiving, consists of watching New York City Macy’s Day Parade over breakfast, preparing for guests, and cooking. Next, we get all the appetizers out, open up pumpkin beer with cinnamon rimmed glasses, and play chess. The guests arrive, we eat and drink and eat and drink some more. Finally we throw ourselves onto the couch in the evening, pop on a holiday movie, and drift into food comas together. Every. Single. Year. Without fail – oh wait.

The brakes of my boyfriend’s car selfishly stopped working the night before and we were scrambling means for transportation to Cowbridge this Thanksgiving morning.

So that meant a very delicate, cherished and thoughtfully manifested tradition and I was in a cafe of students who were blissfully unaware that it was a quarter past 12 and I have not even started one game of chess yet.

I was feeling homesick to say the very least. But at the time I was throwing a pity party, and giving the opposite of thanks, my boyfriend and his family were in Cowbridge waiting not only for my arrival, but to celebrate their first Thanksgiving.

At 12.30 Hywel’s very excited younger sister picked me up from school. I was not feeling the holiday spirit, but her chipper spirit was starting to chip away the wall of cynicism I had built up in Starbucks.

We arrived in Cowbridge and two adorable puppies and one adorable boyfriend came running through the garden to greet me. I finally heard the first proper “Happy Thanksgiving” of the day and it sounded lovely.

The moment I walked into the kitchen every feeling of cynicism and doubts of a Thanksgiving in Wales faded.

The house was chaotic with my boyfriend’s family hustling around the kitchen making pies, roasting turkey and salmon, and mashing potatoes. Music was playing, the Macy’s parade was streaming on a laptop, and a chessboard was out waiting to be played. A feeling of familiarity rushed over me and finally it was Thanksgiving.

We ate appetizers together, played card games together, drank together, ate more together, and ate more, and then more, gave thanks together, and finally slipped into food comas by 9pm – but not before FaceTiming with my family in New York. I went to sleep smiling.

What this experience has taught me is that even though I wasn’t home in New York this Thanksgiving, I still could find a place to call home here in Wales.

The Thanksgiving weekend ended with a Reindeer Parade in Cowbridge that jump-started my holiday spirit for the month.

So for all you study abroaders, grab your friends and head to some holiday festivities. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, it could be from the warm smiles that pass by, or the taste of hot chocolate in a Thermos, I guarantee you’ll find a piece of home.

Read more about international students’ experiences of living and studying in Cardiff.