Gratitude at the center of annual International Community Thanksgiving dinner

More than 60 international students at Elon were joined by faculty, staff and community partners to enjoy traditional Thanksgiving treats on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Dozens of Elon’s international students, faculty and staff gathered on Tuesday for a tradition rooted in gratitude. The Office of the President hosted its annual International Community Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 14 in LaRose Student Commons.

“We wanted to say thank you because we’re all so grateful for all of you, all of the trials and tribulations that we make it through together. For you all being here and choosing this really brave path to be an international student here at Elon, and for the learning that takes place along the way, … we are grateful for you,” said Kristen Aquilino, director of international student services during the dinner reception.

Kristen Aquilino, director of international student services, speaks during the International Student Thanksgiving on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

More than 60 international students, with various Elon faculty and staff, and community partners enjoyed traditional Thanksgiving treats and the fellowship that followed during the evening.

“It’s a nice bit of community-building, especially for some of my friends who are international who’ve never had Thanksgiving. It’s a really cool way to interact with American culture,” said Ian Clark ’26, an international economics major who was most looking forward to the pumpkin pie being served.

President Connie Ledoux Book echoed Aquilino’s gratitude to Elon’s international community during her remarks at the dinner reception. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other enrollment trends, Elon has remained ambitious in its goal to double international enrollment by 2030.

Assistant Professor of History Yidi Wu speaking with Assistant Director of the Kernodle Center for Civic Life Andrew Moffa at the 2023 International Community Thanksgiving.

After a dip in the last few years, there are 174 international students enrolled at Elon this fall, Book said during the dinner, and the presence of each one is vital to the entire Elon community.

“We wanted to increase the richness of the global understanding [here at] Elon. Getting to share your story, your experience with all of us is a privilege,” Book said.

Book spoke about her recent trip to Japan where she connected with the son and grandson of Toshio Kato, Elon’s first international student, Kato, whose surname was Sato when she first arrived at Elon in 1914. At the onset of World War I and speaking little English, Kato traveled by sea with missionaries to attend Elon. Six years later, she graduated as valedictorian and her story serves as an example of the courage international students display.

“Your own courage is in Toshio’s story — all of you raising your hand to see the world, to expand your horizon, to engage in a culture outside of your home country,” Book said. “That courage lives in all of you.”

International students Sakura Kawakami ’26, left, and Huria Tahiry ’26 with other international students.

Sakura Kawakami ’26 is a marketing major from Japan and said the Thanksgiving dinner was an incredible way to connect with a community that has shaped her time at Elon. From her first week at Elon, strong connections were built among the international students and the dinner was a way for her to show her gratitude.

“It’s a good time to spend time with friends, meet new people and just enjoy our time together. It’s a time for community,” Kawakami said.