My senior of year of college, I made the rather strange choice of spending a semester abroad in England. Two years prior, I had spent a year teaching in Bangkok, and I was itching for international travel and one last adventure before graduation and the unknown. I didn’t have a boyfriend or job to keep me fettered to small town Washington, so off I went.
In August I flew to Heathrow. By chance, I sat one row ahead of another study abroad student flying to England for the same program as me. The other passengers let us switch seats so we could chat on the flight over. It was awesome. We had so much in common: drama, writing, Shakespeare! It got even better when we landed and found fellow CMRS students waiting for the same shuttle that would take us to Oxford. We all had so much to talk about: why did we come to England? What were we studying? It was so fantastic to be with people with similar interests. And we were so, so excited as the bus drove by the green rolling hills. Could it be possible English sheep were cuter than our American sheep? The stone houses, the quaint tiny towns and the beautiful cathedrals. We were soaking it in and we had just arrived.
I could go on and on and on about my time at Oxford. How Sarah H. and I would spend Thursday nights getting ready for our terrifying Jane Austen tutorial by procrastinating with long games of Snood and Pinball. How Megan and I went to Paris and I hurt my knee but we had fun anyway. How a group of us went to Scotland and later, Ireland, and had the time of our lives. And how I was randomly assigned a roommate with a similar background (missionary kids unite!) and she was and is one of my favorite people of all time.
But this post is about Thanksgiving. Leave it to the Americans to make so much food there wasn’t space on the counter for all of it. And we even had a separate Thanksgiving dessert party! We all made our favorite Thanksgiving foods and had a wonderful potluck. I don’t think many of us were homesick that Thanksgiving at St. Michael’s Hall. We didn’t get to hang out in a large group very often as we didn’t all live in the same dorm and had different schedules. I was taking Shakespeare, Drama, and Jane Austen in addition to our integral course, The Making of Europe.
Because we were dining in our dorm, we didn’t have to wear the academic gowns that we did if we were dining at Keble College, the University of Oxford college our program was affiliated with. (Really, truly, we had to wear black gowns, similar to what you see in the Harry Potter movies, when dining at Keble College.)
I remember us jockeying for space on the stove, in the oven and even for counter space as we prepared our Thanksgiving feast. I invited a friend from college who was working in London to join us so she’d have a place to go for Thanksgiving. (She also happens to be an amazing cook!)
I still remember when I was a kid, living in Hong Kong, I would yearn to be in the States for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had a romantic notion of what holiday celebrations would look like in America. I imagined long tables of food, surrounded by family. But Thanksgiving in Oxford was similar to the Thanksgiving in Hong Kong: potluck style, surrounded by new friends and old friends, far away from our families. Separated by an ocean, this was our new family, even if just for a few months.
I am truly thankful for my semester abroad in Oxford. It was one of the most magical times of my life. I met wonderful people, some whom I still see periodically and keep in touch with as much as our busy lives allow.
Thanksgiving is really what you make it, and we made it special those 11 years ago.