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‘A new Thanksgiving tradition’

Nov. 22, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. - Rachel Spiller, executive assistant to David Luzzi, met with international students, Poigano Nazila, MS'18, Emily Liu, MS'17, and Jaejun Byun, CPS'17, on Nov. 22, 2016 prior to hosting them at her home for Thanksgiving. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

For years, Rachel Spiller’s family members would drive from places across the Northeast to meet for Thanksgiving in Binghamton, New York. But as people relocated, holiday plans changed. And her Thanksgiving tradition evolved into something new, something she didn’t expect.

For the past three years Spiller has hosted her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for Thanksgiving at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But she’s also welcomed a small number of international students from Northeastern to share a holiday meal and good company. On Thursday, the tradition will continue, as she will welcome four such students into her home for the holiday.

“I feel like going into the fourth year, this feels really nice to have as a new Thanksgiving tradition,” said Spiller, executive assistant to David Luzzi, Northeastern’s vice provost for research, innovation, and development and vice president of the Northeastern University Innovation Campus in Burlington, Massachusetts.

The makings of a new tradition

It all began with an unexpected email from the Office of Global Services, which was then known as the International Student and Scholar Institute, asking if recipients would be interested in hosting Northeastern international students for Thanksgiving. “I thought that would be terrific,” Spiller recalled thinking. “Here I work at a university, and this is a great way to interact with our international students.”

Hosting the students turned out to be a wonderful experience, she said, and in the years since, it was Spiller sending the emails as Thanksgiving approached asking if there was an opportunity to host international students again.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to meet people and hear about different cultures and their experiences in the States and what brought them here and to share some of our culture.”

The setting and the food might be different, but the sense of family and warmth is universal.
—Rachel Spiller

One of the students Spiller will host this year is Emily Liu, MS’17, a second-year graduate student studying information assurance.  Liu, who came to the U.S. from China in 2015, is looking forward to immersing herself in a uniquely American tradition.

“When I came here I wanted to get more involved in the culture,” she said. “On Thursday, I want to see what kind of food people will eat and what they will do.”

Liu was thankful for Spiller’s invitation to share the holiday together. “It will be a good chance for me to meet new people,” she said.

What’s on the menu?

Spiller will prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal—roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and fresh seasonal vegetables. Her sister will bring the pies, which are usually of the apple, blueberry, and raspberry variety. She keeps a kosher home and always makes sure to check if the students have any dietary restrictions ahead of time.

Her guests typically arrive in the late afternoon, around 4 or 5 p.m. When asked about Thanksgiving traditions, Spiller said that watching football wouldn’t be on the menu; she’s just looking forward to enjoying a relaxing evening of food and conversation.

Spiller said that social aspect, and the feeling of being home with family, is something she tries hard to bring to her annual Thanksgiving gathering. It’s something, she said, international students may miss from being so far from their home countries and families. “This is an opportunity for me to give them that element that might not be part of their day-to-day university experience—that sense of family connection,” she said.

“The setting and the food might be different, but the sense of family and warmth is universal.”

Jason Kornwitz contributed to this story.

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