DeKALB – It was a question that had to be asked: What does someone from Turkey think of turkey?
“My son is a sophomore at DeKalb High School and he gets asked that all the time,” Ozlem Atay Ozkanli laughed. “I like all of these (dishes).”
Atay Ozkanli, a visiting professor from Turkey, was one of about 240 guests treated to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner during the Network of Nation’s annual International Thanksgiving Dinner last Friday night at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in DeKalb.
With a core group of 11 churches and about 300 volunteers, leader Ruth O’Donnell said The Network of Nations is a nonprofit organization committed to extending “hospitality, friendship and practical assistance” to about 1,350 Northern Illinois University students from 119 countries.
“It is really awesome the way the cultures come together,” said O’Donnell, who grew up in Hong Kong. “When you offer hospitality to an international, you may be befriending a future leader of the world.”
It was the first time many of the students had experienced Thanksgiving, since the holiday is not celebrated elsewhere in the world.
“As Muslims, it’s our duty to give thanks every day,” Fardin Khalili, a mechanical engineering student from Iran, said. “This gathering is very good. ... I like the foods.”
Wei Pai, a music student from Taiwan, said he was impressed with the effort to “make people feel comfortable.”
“It’s like a big family,” said his sister, Ning Pai. “Everyone is so kind.”
“I think it’s fun and very interesting,” fellow Taiwanese music student Ting-Ya Chiu said. In her country, she said, families come together for a New Year’s celebration.
Tsai-Ying Li, another music student, said the gathering is a good way to make friends.
And to try new foods, like turkey, which they don’t have in Taiwan.
“I think it’s great,” Ning Pai said, after taking a bite.
“It tastes like chicken,” Chiu laughed, noting one of the big dishes in her country is a hot pot, which is like a soup to which various vegetables are added.
In Ukraine, graduate student Ivan Nikitin said they have turkeys, but not as big as the ones in the U.S. They also don’t have gravy, which he finds “very tasty.”
For Atay Ozkanli, who was attending for the second time, last week’s gathering was a chance to meet new people and “observe the different cultures.”
Ning Pai, in her third year at NIU, hopes to have something even more to be thankful for next year. “I hope I can stay here and get a job,” she said, laughing.