As an American with a family that lives across the world, I don’t really get to go home for Thanksgiving. I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family for the last three years, but have found even better ways to celebrate, with people who I value just as much as my family.
Over the years as an out of state student, I’ve spent Thanksgiving with everyone but my immediate family.
As a freshman missing her family, I spent my my first Thanksgiving with my grandma and aunts in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve visited Madison many times, but never in the winter. Now, I live in California, so needless to say, I did not feel prepared for the cold.
Even so, I enjoyed Thanksgiving. I visited some friends, did some Black Friday shopping for the first time and really got to catch up with my extended family. As a kid, I lived mostly just my mom, my dad, my sister and I. We constantly moved always lived so far from extended family that we never did that many big holiday celebrations together.
I got to explain to my grandma and aunts all the things I participated in, how much I loved UCLA and everything I wanted to achieve in college and after. They supported me and felt so excited and happy that I could visit.
This trip became the first time I’d come to visit them by myself. They had seen me as the older sister of my younger one and the daughter of my parents, but never as my own person – a budding adult. When I visited by myself, I think they all really saw who I started to become. I began growing into the person I’d desired to become, a person my family had never really seen.
I will never forget that Thanksgiving. That year, I felt grateful to celebrate with them and they felt grateful to have me. My grandma loves us all to pieces and so rarely gets to see us, so it felt magical to bring her the joy of visiting. It also showed me that I did have some family in the country – I didn’t live here completely alone.
My second year, I couldn’t really afford to fly out again and I felt very overwhelmed with schoolwork. So instead, I worked and spent the weekend with one of my closest friends.
I had recently started a new job at a movie theater near my university. It was a great job with fun people, free movies and a lot of down time. However, this eventually led to my boredom and led me to swap over to the busiest on-campus coffee shop that I currently spend all of my time at.
Regardless, at the time, I could have fun with my coworkers and make some money on Thanksgiving. I loved saving up money back then (still do), and so it served as the perfect opportunity for me at that time. Sadly, I thought I would get paid double for working on a holiday, but it turns out that policy only only applies on Christmas. Even so, I still earned $80.
That weekend then turned into me living at my friend Daylyn’s house and watching movies with her family the whole weekend.
Daylyn and I met in 2015 when we had just finished our junior years in high school. We both went to a film summer camp called SOCAPA in LA and became really close in only two weeks. Daylyn and I stayed in contact for the year that we were apart, which impressed me given the LA/Switzerland time difference. We had basically decided we’d stay friends for life.
When I moved out here for college, she already lived here. She inspired me to get a Disneyland pass and we try to own as many matching ugly Christmas sweaters as possible. As one of my best friends, I cherish the memories we made that Thanksgiving, including the shopping and watching so, so many movies with her and her mom.
I feel so grateful to have her in my life, and know such a welcoming family. That Thanksgiving I felt incredibly grateful for her and everything she does for me.
This year will go differently. For the first time since college began, I actually live with my close friends. Six of us live in an apartment near campus together. Almost all of us participate in the same student theater company, and all have theater- techie backgrounds.
I consider my roommates as more than my friends – they’ve become my family. They have showed me what true friendship and support looks like. They have supported me while my family lives so far away. I have never felt alone or lost with them by my side. As a result, when we discussed Thanksgiving plans, I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Instead, I wanted to stay home with them.
Although half of them will return home for the holidays, the other half of us have a lot of plans. We intend to order pizza, watch Fantastic Beasts 2 and simply spend time with each other. We have a big day for theater the next day so we intend to save our money and energy and just chill out on the couches together. It doesn’t matter how simple our plans seem because just spending time together will make the day special.
The moral of my three different experiences show that Thanksgiving can turn out special for you even if you don’t have your family there. Thanksgiving revolves around family, but it also about involves feeling grateful.My friends have become my family out here, so Thanksgiving with them has turned into Thanksgiving with family.
I feel lucky to study at UCLA, even if my real family lives thousands of miles away. Even though I feel a touch of sadness about our distance during the holidays, I still feel grateful. I feel grateful for them, and for the ability to achieve everything I want to on my own.
So this year, if staying at your university away from your family, find some friends to spend time with. Spend time with people that matter to you and that you appreciate. Never forget how amazing this experience turns out; enjoy the festivities of Thanksgiving with love, enthusiasm and positivity. Thanksgiving can turn out special without your distant family members – you can make of it whatever you want. You only need some friendship, joy and a turkey.