Thanksgiving is a holiday for people to reflect on the things they do have. Perhaps the most important thing to be thankful for is family, and though Pittsburg State University’s international students are far from their homes and families, they do have each other. For each of the past four Thanksgiving holidays, Cathy Lee Arcuino, interim director of Pittsburg State University’s international programs and services department, has organized a large dinner for the students.
Arcuino and her boyfriend, Bill Daneke, turn the service bay of his motorcycle repair shop, Bill’s Cycle, into a mess hall in which they host more than 100 international students who are spending their holiday break in town. It’s an event that continues to grow in popularity each year.
“Some of the students go out of town with their friends, but I want the ones who stay here to have somewhere to do,” Arcuino said. “They’re very excited about it.”
The event usually attracts more than 100 international students and their friends. Volunteers started Wednesday night and began again in the wee hours of Thursday morning, setting up tables and chairs and smoking turkeys, racks of ribs, ham and brisket in a giant smoker out back. In the kitchen of the attached home, students and friends worked to prepare traditional Filipino and American dishes, as well as cuisine from other countries. One of the more sought-after dishes is lumpia, a spicy Filipino egg roll filled with beef, chicken or pork.
“I have to make a lot of extras,” Arcuino said, adding that she uses her mother’s recipe. “At least a third of them are gone before we even start.”
Elina Akhmadullina, an accounting student from Kazan, the capital city of the Republic of Tartarstan in southern Russia, said she enjoyed spending Wednesday and Thursday helping to prepare for the meal.
“Yesterday we had fun playing with the little kids, and it was fun watching them have a pillow fight,” Akhmadullina said. “I cooked a little bit, but most of the time we were just bonding. It’s how it usually goes in Cathy Lee’s house. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot more people.”
Akhmadullina said Thanksgiving is similar to the way Russians celebrate the new year.
“Our family all comes together and we celebrate with friends,” she said. “It’s just like that here. Even if we have 160 show up, they’re still family. I feel like they’re all my family.”
Kyongvin “Jamie” Lee, an international studies student from Seoul, South Korea, said she also feels like the friends she has made at PSU are family.
“Even though I don’t have family in America, Cathy Lee is like my big sister,” Lee said, adding that she will spend Christmas with her uncle in Texas. “One of the good things about coming here is that I can always make new friends that I might not meet on campus because they’re in other majors.”
Page 2 of 2 - Lee said she thinks it is important that PSU has someone like Arcuino to help the international students feel like they belong in the community.
“She just says ‘My house is your house,’ so I feel really comfortable here,” Lee said. “I feel like Pittsburg is my home, too, because of her.”
The dinner is a fun event for local residents, too. Southeast High School junior Joely Gath said she worked in Daneke’s shop over the summer and met a lot of international students while she was there.
“Cathy Lee forced me to start talking to people and it’s been great,” Gath said.