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International BU students get a taste of first Thanksgiving meal

Lucie Nguyen of Paris (center) tries Thanksgiving fare at Boston University.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Lucie Nguyen of Paris (center) tries Thanksgiving fare at Boston University.

You may think there’s nothing unusual about a Thanksgiving buffet with turkey and gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, even squares of ravioli stuffed with butternut squash. But this uniquely American holiday offers some surprises for foreign students who don’t know it.

For Soohyun Hong, 22, of South Korea, studying international business, the symphony of flavors on her plate are delightful. “The cranberry sauce is especially really nice,” she says. But she’s disappointed about one thing. “I miss seeing the whole turkey like in the movies.”

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Alas, the big bird was served already carved at an early Thanksgiving for students at Boston University’s Metropolitan College International program. Students come from partnering universities worldwide, study here for up to one academic year, to get a taste (often literally) of American culture.

Carole Counihan, food anthropologist and professor in the MET gastronomy program, is explaining the holiday, the significance of turkey, even tofurky. Student Lisa Igelbrink, 22, from Germany, a business major, looks over the spread and says, “This food relates to history.”

Some of the 40 attendees might disagree with actress Zooey Deschanel, who recently announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she dislikes the beige, gray, and white of Thanksgiving fare. Here dishes looked appealing and tasted delicious.

“I never had turkey before,” says Lukas Schoenbeck, 29, also from Germany. “It’s awesome. I love it. It’s honest food.” He didn’t understand the pumpkin tartlets, or, in fact, pumpkin at all. “We don’t have pumpkin in Germany,” he says. “It’s everywhere here, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin pie.”

Xiaochan Ma, 20, of Beijing had only tasted turkey thinly sliced in a sandwich, but knew what whole birds look like. “I learned about turkey from TV shows,” she says. Mauro Di Buono, 22, from Milan and studying finance, acknowledged that “turkey is special,” but his preferred dish here is, not surprisingly, ravioli. “For sure my favorite is the pasta,” he says.

Paris resident Lucie Nguyen, 21, found some of the combinations strange. “It’s unusual to mix turkey and cranberry,” she says. (Never mind that the French make duck a l’orange.)

During the long weekend, Nguyen says there’s another truly American Thanksgiving tradition she intends to participate in: “Shopping.”

Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at atrieger@comcast.net.
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