Guests at the President’s Table
At home with the Huddlestons are (l to r) Qian Wang, Jaya Dofe, Giles Huddleston, Emma Bricker, President Mark Huddleston, Loker Xu, and Xiaoqiong You.
President Mark Huddleston may want to start thinking about next Thanksgiving now. Jaya Dofe, along with her husband Harshal and three other international students, were guests of the president’s family during the holiday just gone by and called it one of the best days of their lives. That could take some living up to.
The students were invited to the president’s home at the urging of Zainab Qari, who first proposed the idea of having faculty and staff host international students for the holiday in 2012 when she joined the staff in the Office of International Students and Scholars. Twenty-five years ago, when Qari came to America to study at Suffolk University, a professor asked her to join her family for Thanksgiving.
Last year, Qari found 15 UNH employees willing to share the bounty of the holiday. This year, she decided to ask the president. And, as luck would have it, his family was going to be celebrating in Durham instead of traveling as they normally do. While staying at UNH for Thanksgiving was a first, opening their door to strangers was not.
“When we lived in Delaware, I resettled a family from Bosnia. At one point, they lived in our home for some months, so inviting strangers to dinner was easy,” says Emma Bricker, Huddleston’s wife.
For Loker Xu, the whole experience was easy, and unexpected.
“We had a great conversation during the dinner. We talked a lot about cultural differences between China, India and the United States, such as language and behavior difference,” Xu says. He described Huddleston as being concerned about the international students at UNH. “The conversation went very smoothly. To be honest, I was a little bit worried about the topics before I came to his house. But it turned out that he was very talkative and approachable.”
This was Xu’s third American Thanksgiving, which is perhaps why he used the word “traditional” to describe the meal. That’s how Bricker referred to it, too, having served turkey, stuffing (both cooked inside the turkey and out), carrots and celery, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, creamed onions, corn pudding and gravy.
“We, of course, had coffee, pecan and pumpkin pies and enough whipped cream to cover everything.” Bricker says, adding that it was a wonderful experience for all of them. “It afforded opportunities for three different cultures to share similarities and differences on a range of topics while enjoying a classic American meal and holiday.”
Although it is Xiaoqiong You’s second year in the United States, this was her first Thanksgiving dinner, and it was, she says, everything she could have wanted.
“The homemade American traditional food was absolutely superb. Emma must have spent the whole day cooking it. We are greatly honored,” You says. “The president's family was just friendly and hospitable, making us all feel at home.”
That feeling was extended when all the students helped trim the family’s Christmas tree — something Huddleston said they don’t typically do in November.
“I wanted them to experience both traditions,” Huddleston says. “It was a whirlwind of activity. They were just going at it, having a blast.”
“They were wonderful guests,” he adds. “It’s always interesting to see the traditions we take for granted through the eyes of those for whom they are new. And it felt like part of that broader American tradition of bringing together a diverse group of people to give thanks. It was a microcosm of the holiday.”