CHARLESTON — Sixty-five international students from Eastern Illinois University came together Monday night to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas as part of a free holiday meal at Lincoln Garden.
There was not an empty seat by the end of the dinner in the Charleston-based restaurant as some students tried their first bite of turkey and celebrated their very first Thanksgiving.
Wafeek Wahby, a professor of construction technology at Eastern, said he thought of the idea for the “2012 International Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner” during a post-Thanksgiving class discussion. This talk led him to finding out that the majority of his international students had never celebrated the feast of a holiday before.
Wahby said his hopes for the dinner were for international students to be able to relate to one another and for them to also experience a traditional American Thanksgiving.
“I wanted them to be able to sit with others, see how Thanksgiving started and to be able to make connections with other students,” Wahby said.
When Wahby came into Lincoln Garden looking for some help with the dinner, owners Faik and Gici Zendeli said they would provide the meal free of charge.
“It didn’t matter how many people came for the dinner, we were glad to do it,” Gici said.
The staff of Lincoln Garden cooked and prepared a full-course meal for all the Eastern international students, staff and faculty that included the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and corn.
A majority of students were seen leaving the family restaurant with to-go boxes in tow, and for Shahmir Haq, the meal really was a feast that he couldn’t quite conquer.
Haq, a sophomore communication studies major, said he enjoyed the meal so much that he took the rest of it home to enjoy later in the night.
“This is my third Thanksgiving, but my first real Thanksgiving meal,” Haq said.
For Haq, a native of Pakistan, the Thanksgiving dinner was a way to spend quality time with friends and faculty.
Ayeshah Hussain, a senior biology major said the “2012 International Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner” was the first time she had ever tasted turkey or celebrated Thanksgiving.
“I think the dinner is a great way to experience Thanksgiving and Christmas and the different American traditions,” Hussain said. “We don’t celebrate these holidays were I’m from, so its been nice to actually be able to experience a real Thanksgiving meal.”
Hussain, who was born in Bangladesh, said she wishes she had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving sooner and hopes to bring the American tradition back home to her parents.
“I will cook the Thanksgiving meal next year if I have to, but I can’t guarantee it will turn out,” Hussain said with a laugh.
Oyindamola Idowu, a graduate student in the school of technology, was not experiencing her first Thanksgiving meal but said she came to the dinner to spend time with friends and faculty.
“A lot of my close mates will be graduating soon,” Idowu said. “This is the last time I will be able to see them all in the same room.”
This is Idowu’s second time celebrating Thanksgiving and said she felt lucky that she was able to enjoy the holiday last year with one of her professors.
Idowu, who was born in Nigeria, said she likes the traditional aspect of Thanksgiving.
“It’s an American tradition, and I feel that when you’re in a certain place you should participate and experience as much as you can,” Idowu said.
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