Last year, my Thanksgiving was particularly unique and memorable. Making a Thanksgiving meal while studying abroad will always be different from the traditional American Thanksgiving, but leaving the ordeal to a bunch of eighteen and nineteen-year-olds yields some pretty interesting results.

There were twenty-six overseas students on my gap-year program, although four were not American (so this was their first Thanksgiving). We had been in Israel for three months and wanted to do something that felt homey. A signup sheet went around and people signed up to prepare turkey, stuffing, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, cornbread, green beans, pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple cider, all of the classic foods. The thing is, most of us hadn’t ever prepared those foods before. People were frantically texting and calling home for recipes and instructions and then converting all measurements and temperatures to the metric system.

The Turkey

My roommate was bold enough to sign up to make a whole turkey. People loved the turkey, and this year's students actually reached out asking for directions and a recipe, but it was a struggle to get there. Firstly, turkeys are big, and the only ovens available were small and electric. My roommate had no clue how long to cook the turkey and found the turkey preparation quite memorable and slightly scarring. She also couldn’t get her hands on a thermometer or baster and the only big enough pan that she could find was aluminum which couldn’t handle the weight of the turkey. Somehow it all worked out, but I think the rest of us were scared off from ever making a turkey. We were all very impressed by my roommate's major success in cooking a turkey in unconventional conditions.

Baby Pie Pie Pie

While I’m not a fan of most traditional Thanksgiving foods, I love pecan pie. I eagerly signed up to make the pie (something I have baked before), not thinking about the necessary ingredients. Israel does not sell corn syrup in most stores, but it's a major ingredient in most pecan pie recipes. An alternative is maple syrup, something also not easily available because the climate doesn't allow for its production. My friend had made her pecan pie with inverted sugar syrup, but that seemed daunting and experimental. I ended up using an artificial maple syrup hoping it would work. My next struggle was the pecans. I toasted them in a toaster oven to be ~extra~, but I still hadn't mastered the timing and temperature of toaster ovens, so they burnt badly. I then had to receive special permission to run to the corner store and buy more pecans. The pie turned out good, but the inside didn’t have enough time to set due to all the preparation complications and sharing the oven with many other students. It definitely was not like the pies I’d made at home and was more akin to pecan pie soup.

Lara Jacobowitz

Some Choices Were Made

Some other notable dishes were the stuffing, “dinner rolls,” and sweet potato dish. My friends were preparing the stuffing in my dorm, and I saw them putting solid margarine in a completely liquid mixture (to make cornbread to put in the stuffing). I knew that looked wrong. Later on, I asked to see the recipe and pointed out where it explicitly said to melt the margarine. The dinner rolls ended up being delicious homemade challah rolls, but not your typical dinner roll. The most talked-about dish, especially among the native students, was the sweet potato casserole. Americans weirdly put marshmallows on top, and the other students were exceptionally bothered by this. Additionally, you can’t buy a bag of plain white marshmallows (the bags come with a mix of strawberry-flavored pink marshmallows and traditional white ones). Despite this, the casserole was topped with fluffy pink and white marshmallows and was a gooey, delicious, pink, orange, and white mess on people’s plates. While our food wasn’t strictly following tradition, everyone finished the meal stuffed and happy that we could have a somewhat normal Thanksgiving.

The Decor

We ate the meal in our cafeteria donned in autumnal clothing, but we also wanted to decorate the space so it fit the Thanksgiving vibes. Some students made kindergarten hand turkey drawings, and the table was laid with a nice hunter-green tablecloth and disposables (sorry, Earth). For the centerpieces, we wanted to get as autumnal as possible in a country that doesn’t experience fall. My friends had a vision of pinecones on the table and were willing to do anything to achieve this. There was a tree next to our building that had pinecones; the only issue was getting the pine cones off the tree. My friend knocked on my door asking for a broom. Unaware of their plan and confused, I gave them the broom and followed them to the third-floor outdoor stairwell.  Two of my friends were whacking the tree branches with anything long enough to reach the pine tree. I grabbed another broom and we moved up to the fifth floor to try to get a better shot at the tree. All bystanders looked at us like we were crazy, and people on the ground ran across shielding their heads, but the pinecones made great tablescapes. Other people spray-painted glass bottles orange and stuck fake plants and tall grasses inside as an additional centerpiece that fit the color scheme.

Lara Jacobowitz

All Worth It

The conversations weren’t your usual Thanksgiving topics — no random great aunts talking politics — instead, we all said what we were grateful for, described our favorite Thanksgiving Friends episode, and detailed our unique family traditions. While I didn’t get the chance to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade over pancakes with my family or go on a Turkey Trot, Thanksgiving 2020 was spectacular and made the almost 6,000-mile distance between my dorm and home feel a bit shorter. Plus, now I can say that helped make Thanksgiving in a different country for close to thirty people. I highly recommend all overseas students do whatever they can to fulfill their traditions and invite others to join in. People have always connected over food, and the challenges of cooking in an unfamiliar place only make the results more fulfilling or comical — either way, it's worth it.