Thanksgiving: What it is and fun traditions to take a part in!

Various traditional Thanksgiving pies

Thanksgiving is a national U.S. holiday that is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving celebrates the fall harvest, giving thanks to what we have, and coming together with friends and family. There are many traditions and activities that people take part in during the Thanksgiving break and below are some ideas and events that you can take part in. 

Thanksgiving Dinner: Many families get together on Thanksgiving day to cook together during the day, many families also tend to start eating late afternoon in order to have room in their stomachs for all the delicious food! A traditional Thanksgiving dinner can include a roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, dinner rolls, corn pudding, mashed potatoes. For dessert pies are the go to: pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, and berry pies.


Friendsgivng: Since Thanksgiving is generally celebrated with family, Friendsgiving is a time to get together with friends for a Thanksgiving dinner. Generally this is more of a potluck gathering where each person will bring something to share with the group. 


American Football: Watching a football game while gathering with family and cooking is a big part of the day. There are 3 different games that are played throughout the day. It is tradition that the Detroit Lions host a game as well as the Dallas Cowboys host a game on Thanksgiving day. After each game, the winning team can be seen eating a part of the turkey to celebrate their win. This year the games are: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions, Washington Commanders vs. Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks.

 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: This parade is an annual parade in New York City that first took place in 1924. This is typically a 3 hour parade that is held in Manhattan and ends in front of the Macy’s Herald Square. There are many floats, giant balloons and performances.

Turkey Trot:  A Turkey Trot is a footrace that is usually a 5K and is held around Thanksgiving hence named this way. This is also a chance to give back to the local community as a way for many local charities to raise money, hold a canned food drive, or a toy collection. Many of the participants also dress up as turkeys during the race!

Giving Back: Thanksgiving is also the time to show appreciation and show kindness to others. Many people volunteer at soup kitchens, community centers or food banks that support their community and others. Many people also donate food, clothes and supplies and also volunteer to go grocery shopping for others who may not be able to. 

The Magical Thadingyut Festival of Myanmar

What is the Thadingyut Festival?

The Thadingyut Festival, also known as the Lighting Festival in Myanmar, is a cherished cultural and religious observance that takes place on the full moon day of the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut. This festival is the second most popular festival in Myanmar/Burma after Thingyan which is Burmese Water Festival. This three-day festival marks the end of Buddhist Lent, a period of deep reflection and meditation for monks. Thadingyut Festival is a time when Myanmar truly comes alive. Streets, homes, and public buildings are adorned with colorful electric bulbs and candles, symbolizing the three stairways of the Buddha’s descent from Tāvatiṃsa Heaven after delivering the Abhidhamma teachings to his mother, Maya. Beyond the visual spectacle, Thadingyut carries deep spiritual meaning, celebrating the profound wisdom enshrined in the Buddha’s teachings. During these days, Buddhists pay their respects to monks and offer gifts at pagodas and monasteries. Young people express their gratitude to elders through thoughtful gifts and fruits, fostering a strong sense of unity and reverence within the community. Thadingyut Festival beautifully weaves together tradition, spirituality, and the warmth of familial bonds within the rich cultural fabric of Myanmar.

What do you do at the Thadingyut Festival?

During the Thadingyut Festival a vibrant tapestry of traditions and meaningful activities unfolds. The streets, homes, and public buildings across Myanmar are decorated with bright beautiful light bulbs and candles to symbolize the Buddha’s descent from Heaven. Most Buddhists visit pagodas and monasteries to pray and pay respects to monks and offer food. People would also host donations at monasteries to practice good deeds. Beyond the illuminating decorations, this is also a fun time for young people since fireworks are allowed during the 3 days. Many fireworks would be up in the sky at night to celebrate the festival. Similar to the red pocket for lunar new years, young people would also get pocket money for praying to their elders as a sign of respect. In essence, Thadingyut Festival unites tradition, spirituality, and community, making it a captivating and cherished event in Myanmar’s cultural calendar.

When is the Festival? 

The Thadingyut Festival, also known as the Lighting Festival, typically occurs during the full moon day of the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut, which roughly corresponds to the month of October in the Gregorian calendar. This festival lasts for three days, including the day before the full moon day, the full moon day itself, and the day after. Here are the dates for the festival.

Written by Nick Shein

2023 Global Spartan Photo Contest Winners

Each spring, International Student & Scholar Services hosts the annual Global Spartan Photo Contest. Our goal is to share a variety of cultural perspectives through photography and short narratives. As such, each photo submission is accompanied by a short narrative that explains the cultural significance of the photo from the photographer’s perspective. Narratives answer the questions: What aspect of culture does this photo represent? and Why is this photograph important to me?

The Most Impactful Narrative and Top 10 Photos are selected by the Global Spartan Month Planning Committee. In-person voting is open to the general public at our annual Global Spartan Month Fair in March, followed by online voting via social media.  Once the voting period is over, the in-person and online votes are tallied to determine the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place Fan Favorites.

Congratulations to this year’s winner and all of our Top 10 finalists! Thank you for submitting such outstanding photos and sharing your unique cultural perspectives with us! Continue Reading…

How to make hand rolled veggie sushi

Hand Rolled Veggie Sushi

Recipe by Jamie Kubota, MS, RD – Chef Instructor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science & Packaging

Fun to make once you get the hang of it – and so much cheaper than buying sushi out… You can always add in cooked shrimp, crab or egg if you like.  If you want to splurge and include raw fish, you’ll need to find sushi-grade fish – but that can be a fun trip to the Japanese market…

Notes:  Sushi seasoning can be bought pre-made – it comes in a bottle in the vinegar section at the Asian or Japanese markets – and even some American supermarkets carry it.  But you can easily make sushi seasoning as well – simply combine until dissolved 5 parts unseasoned rice vinegar, 3 parts sugar, and 1 part salt (for example, 5 tbsp rice vinegar, 3 tbsp sugar, and 1 tbsp salt).  Store any extra seasoning in a jar in your spice cabinet. 

You can also make the rice on the stove or in the microwave if you don’t have a rice cooker.  The most important thing is the type of rice you use – look for sushi rice – or Calrose rice which is a rice with similar slightly sticky texture perfect for sushi. Regular long-grain rice isn’t the right texture and won’t stick together well for sushi rolling.

Continue Reading…

Peace Corps Experience

When I was in high school, I had to do a report for my English class on an organization, so I wrote mine on the Peace Corps. After graduating from college and working for a few years, I had the desire to travel more and learn another language. After researching short-term language programs, I realized that my best option to learn another language was to immerse myself in another culture, rather than a 3 week course. Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer would allow me the opportunity to get work experience, learn another language and immerse myself in another culture for a period of 27 months. 

In 2019, I went through the interview and application process to become a Peace Corps Volunteer and in December 2019 I received my invitation to serve as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Bulgaria. I accepted the invitation and in June 2000, I flew to Chicago, Illinois for my in-country service training, where I met 70 other Americans who would be in my training group. After spending a few days in Chicago, we all flew to Bulgaria. Our training period of 3 months was spent in the town of Dupnitsa, where I lived with a Bulgarian family who didn’t speak any English. Since I did not know any Bulgarian our initial conversations involved charades. My training was immersive, Monday – Friday 8am-5pm where I attended ‘classes’ which consisted of Bulgarian language learning; Bulgarian culture, history and sector (Community Economic Development) training, as well as medical information, and site visits. At the end of my training period, I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and found that I would be placed to work in the town of Razlog, population 13,000, for the next 2 years. 

In September 2000, I moved to Razlog to work with the municipal government. I worked for the Mayor of Razlog and my counterpart was the Senior Expert of Culture and Public Relations. Throughout my 2 year term: I provided support to the Municipal Government, Business Center and Local Economic Development Agency in project planning, grant writing, project implementation, and management; Designed and implemented individual community projects and grants that supported local governance, minority, civil society, and youth initiatives; Supported the objects and aims of various international aid agencies (PHARE, UNDP, USAID, Council of Europe, and the European Union) through the implementation of strategic development plans.; Project implementation, management, and evaluation of a $5,000 USAID grant.; Grant research, development writing, and management on multiple projects.

I worked four days a week, so I had the flexibility to travel around Bulgaria on the weekends. If I didn’t stay in my town, then I was traveling to see other volunteers. Since we were not allowed to drive, I traveled mostly via bus and sometimes by train. I was able to see the landscape of the country and enjoy the different food. Some of my favorites were shopska salata and moussaka.  I also had the opportunity to travel outside of Bulgaria while living there and went to on trips to Greece, Austria, France, Belgium, Germany, and Turkey, 

In March 2002, I received a call from my Peace Corps Program Manager sharing with me an opportunity to go to East Timor. They were looking to have volunteers who are in their 2nd year of service, extend for a third year to start the Peace Corps in East Timor. They were recruiting 2nd year Community Economic Development  and Health Volunteers. I was nominated by my Country Director and Program Manager, since I had been serving in a small community. I applied and was accepted into the program.

In June 2022, I left my community of Razlog and Bulgaria, for a quick trip home to California before traveling to Washington, DC for my in-country service training. My training group was 18 other Americans who had recently served elsewhere with the Peace Corps; three of us in Bulgaria. We had a shortened training period in the capital of Dili and throughout this time I lived with a family. Training consisted of Tetun-Dili language learning, East Timor culture, history and sector (Local Governance Promotion) training, as well as medical information, and site visits. At the end of my training period I was placed in Aileu to work for the District Administration. Throughout my 6 months at site, I was a able to: Provide support to the District Administration, United Nations Portuguese Peace Keeping Forces, United Nations Military Observers, United Nations Police Forces, and the community in establishing a local governance framework.; Supported the objects and aims of Peace Corps in a new nation through the development of project plans.; Experience in economic development, strategic planning and program development—focusing on local governance and grass-roots development.; Community development experience, working with a variety of actors within the development world—including local schools, non-governmental organizations, the media, and local businesses as well as international aid organizations such as the United Nations.

My experience living abroad was a good experience. I definitely had my ups and downs throughout my 2 ½ years abroad. I am grateful for the time that I was able to spend in 2 countries for a longer period of time, which allowed me to accomplish my initial goal of learning another language, getting work experience, meeting new people, and learning about a new culture. I believe that my time abroad gave me an understanding of the challenges and joys that the international students that I work with are experiencing, while studying here in the U.S. I encourage you to learn more about the Peace Corps, as well as continue to gain new experiences by traveling. 

Suzanne Pendergrass

Assistant Director, International Student and Scholar Services

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer: Alieu, EAST TIMOR June 2002 – November 2002; Razlog Bulgaria June 2000-June 2002