Generally, Thanksgiving is an American holiday uniquely celebrated by Americans. You might be thinking, “well, obviously,” but I cannot count the times I’ve been asked, “How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Lebanon?” or “Do you have a Thanksgiving break in Austria?” They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Lebanon, and there is no Thanksgiving break in Austria because Austrians also don’t celebrate the holiday. Anyway, it’s one of my favorite holidays, and I was sad I was going to miss it this year.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is how friends and family all get together and eat lots of delicious food while taking a day to appreciate and be thankful for what they have. I also like to scroll through Facebook and Instagram on Thanksgiving Day to see all the love and happiness being spread around; people always post pictures of their families and friends and write kind and thoughtful words. It’s one of the many ways social media can actually be a great thing.

Since I’m here in Austria with my boyfriend, I was planning on going out for a nice dinner on Thanksgiving, or maybe even not doing anything special at all. Then, a few days before Thanksgiving, I got invited to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by my American friends here in Graz! It was a potluck Thanksgiving where everyone brought a dish, and one of my friends even volunteered to cook the main entree (turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc.). I was so excited that I wouldn’t have to miss out on Thanksgiving this year!

So fast forward a few days, it was Thanksgiving Day. Thursday is actually my busiest day of the week because I have class from 10-6:30 pm. Not only did I have class on Thanksgiving, but I also had two midterm exams and two essays due. Needless to say, I woke up that morning exhausted and dreading the long day ahead. I wished I could spend the entire day cooking and preparing for the dinner, but instead, I had to spend the entire day in class. The only breaks I had were a couple hours to get lunch and study for my exam, and then a couple hours to run home and throw something together to bring to the dinner.

My first class was from 10-11:30, and it was pretty laid back. I turned in my essay, and the rest of the time flew by quickly. At some point, I started talking to one of my fellow classmates sitting next to me. We have a couple classes together this semester, so I knew who she was and a little bit about her, but I had never really talked to her extensively. All I knew was she was American, but she was now married to an Austrian and living in the countryside near Graz with her two kids.
“It’s Thanksgiving!” I told her. She laughed and we talked about the holiday for a while. She told me how she usually celebrates the holiday with a couple of American friends in the area, and I started asking more and more questions. I think what sparked my interest the most was how nonchalantly she said things like “when I was living in India.”

I kept asking questions between class activities and discussions, until the class was finally over. We went our separate ways, and I set out to look for a place to get some food and study for my exam at 1:30. I only had a couple of hours, so I was running around looking for somewhere to go when I ran into my fellow classmate once again. She was looking for a place to sit down, eat, and study for the exam we both had at 5 that evening, so we ended up siting down at a restaurant near campus.
It didn’t take long for me to pick up where I was on the questions, trying to connect the dots of the stories she had told me. I asked things like “How old were you when you immigrated?” and “When did you move across the country?” After we ordered some schnitzel she saw that I was interested and asked “so, you wanna hear my story then?” I replied that I would love to.

I won’t get into the details, but I learned so much from this woman in such a short period of time. Her story was filled with such amazing experiences, but also with terrible hardships. I found myself living vicariously through her story at some parts, and with tears in my eyes at others.

“And then here I am living in Austria!” she ended. The story had come together, and I could now put all the events mentioned in passing on a timeline. This woman, who I thought was only a few years older than I was, turned out to be only a few years younger than my parents. She was twice my age and had twice as many experience, both highs and lows . “So yeah, that’s it,” she laughed. “So what’s your story?”

I think that’s when I finally took a second to reflect. I had been so caught up in studying for my exams and preparing food for the dinner that evening, that I didn’t even take a second to stop and think about actually giving thanks on Thanksgiving! “Well, it’s not near as dynamic and exciting as yours,” I said, and then I went on to tell her the sort of condensed timeline of my life the way she had told me hers.

I think we don’t do it near as often as we should; we never look back and remember all the things we have been through, because we are so focused on what we are going through now. So after I telling “my story,” I took the time to think about all the things in my life I am thankful for.

– I am thankful for my health; I think we often don’t appreciate our health until we are unhealthy.
– I am thankful for my parents who have given me the opportunity to have all the opportunities I could ever want.
– I am thankful for being a citizen in a free and stable country where I can express myself as I wish and accomplish anything I desire.
– I am thankful for the opportunity to travel and to learn about new places, new people, and the world.
– I am thankful that I start medical school next year and I have a chance to follow my life long dream of becoming a doctor.
– I am thankful for my true friends who have been there for me and loved me now matter how far apart we are or how often we talk.
– I am thankful for my family both immediate and extended for their love and support.
– I am thankful for my sister who amongst a whole bunch of other things reads all of these posts. (Hi Noor!)
– I am thankful for my boyfriend, who always pushes me to be the best person I can be.
– I am thankful for this semester in this beautiful city and this beautiful country. Thank you Graz for truly being a home away from home for me.

I feel like we are all thankful for the same things–our family, our friends, our health, etc. It’s still so important (for me, at least) to take a second and reflect. Sometimes it takes hearing someone else’s story to put things in perspective, and I hope I always remember to slow down and look at the bigger picture.

Anyway, after my lunch I was a little bit late to my class at 1:30, and I’m really glad I had studied for my test the night before since I hadn’t exactly studied at lunch. When I got out of class at 3, I hopped on the bus straight home to start preparing my dishes to bring to the Thanksgiving dinner.
I didn’t make anything to elaborate, just pasta with turkey meat sauce (it is turkey day!) and some salad.


 

I rushed back to class at 5 P.M. where I took my last exam of the day before taking the tram across town to the Thanksgiving dinner! I was greeted by a large group of familiar faces and the smell of a freshly baked turkey. Once we all sat down, we shared a really nice Thanksgiving tradition with a lot of international students who were celebrating the holiday with us for the first time; we went around the table and each person said what they were thankful for. I once again reflected on my own blessings and smiled each and every time someone said they were thankful for their friends, family, and loved ones. At the end of the night I was stuffed with turkey and gratefulness. I could not have asked for a better Thanksgiving in Graz.

Forever thankful for food

The self timer decided to focus on the table instead of us, but that’s everyone 🙂