UTRGV treats international students to Thanksgiving meals — the first for some

International students enrolled at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley were treated to a Thanksgiving meal at the university's ballroom on the Edinburg campus Tuesday. (Francisco E. Jimenez | The Monitor)

EDINBURG — Shamim Hasan is far from home.

The 27-year-old mechanical engineering major is finishing up his first semester at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. As a native of Bangladesh, Hasan had never experienced a Thanksgiving meal, until Tuesday.

UTRGV held its fifth annual Thanksgiving Day luncheon for international students, who were treated to a meal that has become a tradition in American culture, including turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, stuffing and pie at the UTRGV ballroom.

“I think it’s great because we can get the opportunity to get together and have lunch. I think it’s wonderful. It’s a new culture for us, so we can learn from here,” Hasan said. “I heard that this is for the people to have a good time together. I think that’s it. I’m enjoying the party. It’s really great.”

UTRGV Director of International Admissions and Student Services Samantha Lopez helped organize the event. She said that it’s a way of exposing international students to U.S. culture.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday served Thanksgiving meals to more than 300 international students at the university’s ballroom on the Edinburg campus. (Francisco E. Jimenez | The Monitor)

“We want to give them a good lunch,” Lopez said. “The staff ourselves put on aprons and we serve the students. We are thankful for them for choosing UTRGV as their university. We want to make them feel at home. We want for them to feel successful at this university.”

The international Thanksgiving luncheon is just one of the programs that the university helps organize for international students, with the other being the annual Holiday Exchange Program where families from UTRGV allowed international students to spend the holidays with them.

“Today I think we’re serving more than 300 students,” Lopez said. “(Monday) we had the same luncheon at the Brownsville campus, and we fed about 170 students. It’s all free. It’s part of our student services.”

Among the festivities at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Thanksgiving luncheon for international students, which was held inside the university’s Edinburg ballroom Tuesday, were photo opportunities and a chance to break bread with each other. (Francisco E. Jimenez | The Monitor)

Parwinder Grewal, Ph.D, is executive VP for research, graduate studies and new program developments at UTRGV.

“This event, we do it actually every year,” said Grewal. “We are trying to recruit many more international students to diversify our student population. This is why we are making this kind of effort to introduce our culture to everyone, students coming from all over the world.”

Grewal is originally from India, but has been living in the U.S. since he attended school in New Jersey in 1997.

“It is a gift of giving and sharing. It is absolutely very important, and kind of breaking the barriers, sitting down and sharing and talking about what is good to us; good to others that we could do. It is very important,” Grewal said. “It is a melting pot. It is really very good to continue to this country’s success. Everyone feels like it’s their country, so it’s a good thing.”

fjimenez@themonitor.com