Time Abroad: Fall 2007
Major: Finance and Marketing
Can you remember the biggest Thanksgiving gathering you've ever been to? It was probably complete, utter pandemonium. There's the cooking, drinking, talking, louder talking, political debates, pumpkin pie, party fouls; the list is endless. Now imagine that same scene with about 30 people, all crammed into a tiny apartment, speaking at least 10 languages at a time, discussing global politics, over some amazing Italian red wine and of course pumpkin pie.
I lived in Milan with three other people; one amazing fellow study abroad student from DU, Kristi, and two wonderfully quirky Italian boys named Davide and Dario. My exchange to the University of Bocconi afforded me the opportunity to find my own housing in Milan. I was especially excited for this experience because as much as I love my country I wanted to escape it for a while, that was the point after all of study abroad. Kristi and I had met in an Italian language class the year previously and it was decided we should look for places to live together instead of a dorm full of our fellow countrymen. That is how we came to find ourselves living with these two Italian boys. Davide was also a student at the University of Bocconi studying business (Bocconi is a highly regarded business school in Europe) and Dario had just completed his degree in marketing. The two are in some ways what you would imagine when you think of Italians. They are both a little loud, outgoing, they like to speak with their hands and debates are an hourly occurrence. These two were also caring, ever so patient and wonderful teachers; they became two of my dearest friends. I also met a great deal of other international students who were lured to Bocconi. They were from everywhere: Peru, Holland, Germany, France, Turkey, Ireland, Australia, Greece to name a few. While on a class break one day with these fellow students I decided that, I needed to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
Anelle, a friend of mine from France, and I were discussing French traditions when she said, only somewhat sarcastically, "...But Americans really don't have any traditions, right?" And so with that in mind Kristi and I decided to do a Thanksgiving unlike any other. We would invite all of our friends that we had made and show them a little bit about American tradition. The process for the big Thanksgiving dinner started three days before with a large grocery shopping trip for which we recruited our Italian friends to help us with. Immediately the confusion set in, "Why would you want one pumpkin pie let alone four? ...What is a pumpkin pie?" A logistics problem was immediately obvious; one tiny oven could not cook everything needed in one day. So after sorting through the supplies we divided up the cooking for the different days and got to it. Our foreign friends took shifts coming over to help us cook. The first day we set our Italian roommates to work tearing up five loaves of bread to dry for stuffing. In between explaining to them why they could not eat the bread yet, calling my mother to make sure I had her recipes correct, and converting the measurements into metric I had my hands full. Two days before we tackled the pumpkin pies. Our Dutch and German friends came to help roll out the pie crust, mix the pumpkin filling, and have the quintessential flour fight before the pies went to the oven. By the time our large and very robust group of Italian friends had made it over the next day we had finished chopping, cutting and slicing all of the necessary vegetables and sent them to pick up the turkeys (which came with feathers by the way!). After they returned with the turkeys we then sat around debating the fact that there would not be pasta served for Thanksgiving dinner. After convincing them that one dinner without pasta would be survivable, we all stayed up joined by other exchange friends preparing everything we could so that Thanksgiving Day would go smoothly. Finally, it was Thanksgiving morning. After managing to get the first turkey in the oven our friends started rolling in the door around 9:00am to help. We whipped whip cream by hand, played cards, prepared the next turkey, boiled the potatoes, mashed the potatoes, concocted ways of keeping all of the food warm, created recipes when the correct ingredients could not be located, incorporated their ideas into our recipes, made the gravy, laughed, enjoyed some wine and finally it was time to eat. The problem now was where?
By the time dinner was ready to go we had 30 people who had wandered in to help us cook. Thirty friends and acquaintances from all over the world and only two Americans were together to celebrate this tradition. They were all gathered together to see what this Thanksgiving was all about and even before we had eaten I think they figured it out. It was, to us, a way of getting all the people we cared about together and accomplish something. Sure, it was just a dinner (albeit an amazing one), but it was the time we had all been able to spend together as a result. By the time we were done, our roommates finally understood why the bread had to dry, just why I wanted so many pumpkin pies, and that while turkey wasn't pasta, it wasn't half bad either. Near the end of the evening Anelle, who had made the comment that led to our outrageously large Thanksgiving dinner, told me she took it back. Americans do have some traditions after all she conceded with a big smile and an even bigger slice of pumpkin pie. It was then that I looked around at the chaotic scene unfolding and thought how much I was enjoying the buzz of so many different languages, of being surrounded with all these friends and sharing what was for me such an important tradition. Never could I have imagined such a scene. It was a month before I was to come home to the United States and it was in that moment that I realized what my exchange to Bocconi had done for me.