BYU students celebrate Thanksgiving abroad

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Erica Palmer
Kindall Palmer (left middle) and fellow BYU students enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with their local friends in China. After a lot of searching, they were able to find a turkey.

It was November of 2013, and Kindall Palmer and his wife were in China, far from the U.S., their family and friends. They wanted to celebrate the holiday with a traditional Thanksgiving feast. There was only one problem: finding a turkey in China.

Thanksgiving has long been known as a time to spend with family and friends, stuffing one’s face with every food imaginable in the name of gratitude. Like the Palmers, many students have spent more than one holiday away from their families, or even their country. Many come away with an increased sense of gratitude for the holiday they missed and all it represents.

For Christopher Lloyd, a BYU student who spent two Thanksgivings in Germany, the experience involved a castle.

“We decided to have a turkey bowl,” Lloyd said. “We played American football with a bunch of missionaries and some members.”

Lloyd describes it as a foggy day with the castle looming in the background.

Personnel attached to Burg Bentheim, a famous castle in the city of Bad Bentheim, allowed the missionaries to play their turkey bowl on its massive fields.

“Obviously the members had no idea what they were doing,” he said. “But it was pretty fun.”

For others, the best part of their holiday abroad was being able to see different traditions and cultures. Former BYU student Kristi Wilkins told of her experiences with a missionary tablecloth.

“We went to a home that has had missionaries every year, and the missionaries sign their tablecloth,” Wilkins said. “It was kind of cool to see all the names.”

Mariana Bello, a former sister missionary in Richland, Mississippi, described the interesting guests and traditions she encountered on her first Thanksgiving out in the mission field.

“His name was Jim,” Bello said, referring to a particular guest at the feast. “He was wearing a long, dark blue sparkly dress with a matching purse.”

She went on to describe the singing and dancing everyone, including the grandparents, participated in after dinner.

“We watched an old woman get down,” she laughed. “I will never forget that Thanksgiving.”

Those abroad may have trouble finding a turkey for the holiday. While turkey is a generally acceptable food in the United States, some countries don’t find it to be so edible.

Palmer and his wife finally found a Thanksgiving turkey through networking.

“The manager of the factory we worked at tracked down some local guy out in the woods who just happened to have five or six (live) turkeys,” Palmer explained. “He ended up buying two, and we were able to have Thanksgiving dinner with a turkey, despite all the obstacles.”

Kelly Mecham, a former BYU student who spent the holidays in Thailand, was willing to do whatever it took to get a turkey. He described how he and his companion went to a turkey farm and bought a live turkey for their feast.

“Turkeys to them are like peacocks are to us,” Mecham said. “They wouldn’t think of eating them.”

He described how the missionaries had to kill the turkey by chopping off its head and then do the plucking themselves.

“They were all for it,” Mecham said. “I don’t think they liked it very much, though, because we couldn’t quite get all the feathers out.”

Many students will never forget the cultures and traditions they experienced spending their holidays abroad. While spending holidays away from one’s family can be saddening, the memories can sometimes be worth the time.

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