I Was Told There’d be Turkey

 Happy Thanksgiving! This is kind of a strange day for me. First, and most importantly, this is the first holiday I’ve ever missed spending with my family. I woke up this morning to some photos from my mom, texted over Viber (if you don’t know what Viber is, it’s fantastic if you’re going abroad. It lets you text, send pictures, and make free phone calls to anyone with an iPad or iPhone). She sent pictures of the house decorated and all of our pets looking extremely peaceful, and I immediately felt pretty homesick. Things get so busy and amazing here that it’s hard to find time to stop and think about things I miss going on at home, but those pictures stopped me in my tracks.

The second reason today is a little dream-like is that no one here knows about Thanksgiving. Today is just another day in London. I got up at 7:30 am and took the packed tube to work, as always. There are no festive Thanksgiving decorations or discussions of post-turkey napping. It’s a little surreal, feeling like there is something major that everyone else is just ignoring.

My program has been really great about this. Anticipating the anti-climax of Thanksgiving, the instructors and coordinators at Winston House, where I take classes, have planned a huge Thanksgiving dinner tonight. There are going to be a little over 30 guests and we are all bringing a plate. I chose to make corn bread casserole, a recipe I’ve made for Thanksgiving for my family every year since we tried it at my Aunt Barbie’s Thanksgiving dinner. My mom was great enough to send cornbread mix (along with other Thanksgiving themed snacks and decorations) in the mail so I could make it. Unsurprisingly, cornbread isn’t a big thing here. I ran into a slight problem when I went to the store to buy creamed corn and discovered that they also don’t do this in London. Instead I bought just corn and cream, and luckily it worked fine. Other people have been trekking all around the city, looking for American food stores to find bits and pieces, like onion straws for green bean casserole and pumpkin paste for muffins.

I’m looking forward to the dinner tonight because food always makes Thanksgiving feel more like Thanksgiving, but I have to say that despite how sad it is to not be with my family today, how weird it is to have no one around me understand the meaning to today, how hard it was to acquire foods that seems commonplace in the US, today might be the most important Thanksgiving for me yet.

Today for Thanksgiving, being in such a wonderful place and with a lack of many of the extra things like paper turkey decorations and pumpkin pie candles, I feel more aware of the concept of being thankful. It is the absence of these things, the regular food, the spiced smells, the pets, the family, that makes me even more grateful for them. And what’s more, it can make me think of what else I am grateful for this year, which is quite a bit.

Of course everyone always is told to think of what they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but I often feel like this is a footnote thrown in at the corner of dinner between a second helping of mashed potatoes, something I remember but don’t actual consider. This year I am being given an opportunity to really think about what I am thankful for. So, here is a quick list.

(1)  My family. My immediate, and my extended, my actual family and to the people I consider family anyway, I miss them today more than any other day so far and I know that tonight at dinner it will be even harder. I can’t wait to see them in just a few weeks.

(2)  My friends. I miss the ones at home, ones that are posting pictures on social media of Winston-Salem, or their pets, or saying that they miss me. It’s hard to be away from the people I love. But I am also grateful for the friends I have made here, that spent my 21st birthday with me, that have shared this terrific experience with me, and that get to spend this first holiday away from home with me. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer, funnier, more intelligent, more terrific group of people to travel with. Tonight after dinner we will be celebrating the season by watching a holiday movie and exchanging Secret Santa presents. In the absence of my real family, I know these friends, teachers, and coordinators will make me feel at home.

(3)  My pets. Every time I see a dog on the Tube, or a cat on the flat doorstep, I have to stop and coo at it. It’s been too long since I was in the presence of the unconditional love of an animal.

(4)  My health. Right now is a bad example, because I actually am a little sick. But as a general rule, I am extremely healthy. Yesterday, a friend of mine and I climbed 590 steps to the top of St. Paul’s to look at the view of London and then went ice skating outside to the sound of live music in the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, set up for Christmas. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but it made me so grateful for my physical wellness, my ability to do these kinds of things, and the experience I don’t miss out on thanks to my health.

(5)  My education. Everyday here, and at home, I know I am gaining something intangible, but something that enriches my life. I’ve always loved academics and learning, and there isn’t a better place to stress the importance of an education than being here, in London. This is an experience I wouldn’t be given without my education, and it is a place where there is so much to experience and learn that I feel I am getting a whole new kind of education every day.

(6)  This program. It’s hard to stress how grateful I am for this experience. It has been the single best experience of my life. From the people I’ve met to the places I have been, the people who have visited to the things I have experience, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve gotten to take amazing classes, been with amazing people, completed a fantastic internship, and lived in one of the most exciting cities in the world. It’s impossible to be thankful enough for this experience, and particularly to all of the people that made this experience possible. To family, teachers, professors, mentors, friends, supporters, anyone and everyone that played a part in making this program possible for me, thank you. And particularly to my parents, who always encouraged me to do this, especially in the week before when I was terrified of it, thank you.

While this is just a short list, I wanted to reflect on it today when I know that despite where I am, it will always be Thanksgiving to me.   

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