7 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner as an International Student

On the fourth Thursday of November every year, Americans observe Thanksgiving Day, a secular national holiday centered on giving thanks. The first Thanksgiving occurred in the 1600s when the Pilgrims and America’s indigenous people (also known as Native Americans) came together for a feast to celebrate the harvest and other blessings.

Though some things have changed since that first “harvest feast,” the holiday still centers on gratitude, and celebrating with friends and family over a shared meal. Dinner is the main event on Thanksgiving, and for many Americans, their traditional Thanksgiving dinner consists of: roast turkey, turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Of course, many Americans will have other dishes and desserts to commemorate the day, and will also participate in activities such as watching football on TV or going to see a local game, or watching the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (or in-person if you live in New York City).

Regardless of what’s eaten, what’s watched, or how it’s celebrated, at its core, Thanksgiving is really about coming together with friends and family and reminding ourselves how much we have to be thankful for. As long as you’re reflecting and giving thanks, you are celebrating Thanksgiving.

If you’re interested in hosting your own Thanksgiving feast, we’ve gathered seven tips to help you celebrate the holiday:

Plan out your meal as far in advance as possible…

Start by figuring out your menu at least the week before (if not earlier) and determine what supplies you’ll need. Some things to start thinking about:

  • What food and ingredients you’ll need for the recipes you want to make
  • How many dishes and utensils you’ll need for your dinner guests
  • What sort of space do you need to host all of your guests — will you require more chairs or another table?
  • What time you want to host dinner

By starting to plan out the details of Thanksgiving Day, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to prepare and host the meal, and also means you have a game plan for grocery shopping, as the stores get crowded in the week leading up to the actual day. Planning ahead also means you can give your friends or family members enough time to make arrangements or to contribute and help you prepare.

…Including purchasing non-perishable items ahead of time

In addition to planning out your meal as far in advance as possible, try to buy as many ingredients or supplies as you need in advance too. For example, many families will purchase cranberry sauce pre-made in a can, which is something you can buy early. By purchasing some items well ahead of Thanksgiving, you can ensure that some of the ingredients or supplies are in stock and readily available for purchase.

Incorporate your own culture and traditions

The original Thanksgiving brought together the Pilgrims and the Indigenous people in America – each group coming from very different cultures. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, you too can bring your own culture into this American tradition to make it distinctly yours. Consider some of your own favorite traditions or holidays and the food and rituals that accompany them. Is there something you can incorporate into your Thanksgiving meal? Maybe it’s choosing one of your favorite dishes that could pair well with some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Maybe it’s adding a course that represents your culture, or playing games that you typically associate with a holiday from home. It’s okay (and encouraged) to make Thanksgiving a holiday that is personal and special to you.

Accept help!

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it brings people together, so if you’re nervous about cooking the entire meal yourself, ask for help from the people you’ve invited. Encourage American friends to bring their favorite dish, or ask your fellow international students to contribute a dish that’s from their culture to complement the meal. You don’t need to do it all on your own, and oftentimes the meal is that much more enjoyable when you have friends and family sharing their dishes and participating in the cooking.

Create a cooking schedule

Cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal — with the turkey, all of the side dishes and desserts — is certainly a big undertaking, and one that requires a plan. Just the turkey itself can take several hours to cook, so you’ll need to plan when and how you’ll cook your other dishes with this in mind. Many dishes can be prepared completely or partially the day before (or in some cases, even a little earlier) so that you are only finishing or re-heating those dishes on the day of Thanksgiving.

Set the table the night before

If you have the space and are able, set your table the night before the meal to save yourself some extra steps on Thanksgiving. Lay out the utensils your guests will need and any other necessary dishes, so that you can be ready to serve and eat. This will save you time, and also cut down on any commotion in the kitchen during the meal.

Focus on enjoying the deal and your meal — not perfection

This is definitely the most important tip we could give you. Like we mentioned at the beginning of the post, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and being with your family and friends. It’s not about having the perfect table set up or the perfect meal. Don’t stress out too much about getting your mashed potatoes just right, the turkey taking a little too long, or having to fit a lot of people into a small space. What matters most are the memories you’re creating. Enjoy the work you put into your meal and be proud of yourself for bringing your friends or family together.

Understanding the U.S. Presidential Election

It’s been hard not to notice that the U.S. has a big election coming up: its Presidential Election. You have probably seen the countless articles, tweets, posts, and memes related to this upcoming important election, but if you’re an international student, you might not be familiar with how the US election process works. To help you navigate the next month leading up to the election, we are sharing some basics so that you can better understand current events.

About the U.S. Federal Government

There are three branches of the U.S. government: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Each branch has a different function in society with different types of people to help execute that function. No one branch has more power than the other.

The legislative branch

This branch is made up of the U.S. Congress, which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives elected by the people to represent them in creating the laws. There are two Senators per state, and the number of representatives is based on the population of each state.

The executive branch

This branch is made up of the President, Vice President, and the Cabinet, all of which execute and uphold those laws.

The judicial branch

This branch is made up of the Supreme Court (judges, or Supreme Court Justices) which judges and evaluates the laws.

The President’s Role

The U.S. President takes on the role of the leader of the government. He or she also leads the military forces, and has the power to sign or veto laws presented to him or her by the legislative branch. The president is elected for four years (what is called a “term”) and can be in office for a maximum of two terms.

Political Parties in the U.S.

The U.S. government is primarily a two-party system, of which the dominating parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democratic party tends to be more left-leaning – meaning they tend to support more liberal and progressive policies – and the Republican-party is more right-leaning – meaning they tend to support more conservative policies.

The Presidential Election

The Presidential election is held every four years on the first Tuesday in November. This year the election will be on November 3rd.

There are generally two candidates chosen for this election – one from the Democratic party, and one from the Republican party. These candidates are chosen based on results from Primary elections, in which multiple candidates from each party run to become the singular Presidential candidate for each of the political parties.

The two candidates compete to win the most electoral college votes. There are 538 total electoral college votes, so the winning candidate must receive 270 electoral votes.

The Electoral College and the Popular Vote

This part might be a little confusing, but it will be really helpful as you’re watching the news. U.S. citizens vote on election day to make up what is termed “the popular vote.” However, contrary to what one might think, the popular vote does not directly elect the U.S. President.

Instead, when U.S. citizens cast their vote, they are actually voting for an elector from their state. All of these electors make up the electoral college; they are a group of individuals from each state with the express purpose of electing the President.

There are 538 electors, a number based on the number of representatives in the House of Representatives, and each state has its own criteria for select people to vote as electors. Each elector represents one electoral vote. Electors are not necessarily required to vote based on the popular vote; that depends on the rules of each state. However, the candidate that receives the majority in the popular vote gets awarded with all of the electoral votes, except for in Maine and Nebraska where they split the electoral votes proportionally. The BBC shares a great example of why this “winner-takes-all” approach matters: “For example, if the Republican candidate won 50.1% of the vote in Texas, they would be awarded all of the state’s 38 electoral college votes.

In recent history, you may have heard about Presidential candidates who have won the popular vote but lost the election. That is a result of this electoral college process.

What will happen this year on November 3rd?

This year on November 3rd, U.S. citizens will cast their vote for either current President Donald Trump, running for a second term of office, as the Republican candidate, or for Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, and former Vice President to former President Barack Obama. That popular vote will then be noted by each state’s electors who will then cast their vote for who will be the next President. For more information regarding each Presidential candidate, we recommend looking at the candidates here: https://www.isidewith.com/elections/2020/president

What to Do on Valentine’s Day – Regardless of Your Relationship Status

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that many people either love or hate. After all, when a day tends to be associated with relationship status, it can be a little polarizing. However, regardless of whether you are in a relationship or enjoying single life, we’re here to make the case there’s something for everyone on Valentine’s Day. Though the holiday’s origins are rumored to lie with greeting card companies, we appreciate the fact that Valentine’s Day offers us another reason to celebrate our favorite people in our lives – whether those people are our significant others, our best friends or our family members. To help you celebrate, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite things to do on Valentine’s Day.

Give (or make) a Valentine

Here’s an easy one. It’s tradition on Valentine’s Day to give a valentine to someone you’re romantically interested in, but we like this tradition better with a twist: give a valentine to your friends or anyone else in your life you’d like to acknowledge in appreciation. A valentine is simply the term for a card given to another person on Valentine’s Day. Create your own if you’re feeling crafty or artsy, or pick up some fun cards in-store, then distribute to your friends to remind them that you’re happy to have them in your life.

Indulge in the tradition

When people think of Valentine’s Day, they might think of giving someone chocolates, teddy bears, flowers, or some other gift, and then going out for a romantic meal. Sometimes it can be fun to embrace these holiday traditions, though. There are usually some great Valentine’s Day specials at restaurants, and it’s fun to share some candy or a treat with someone you care about. Use this as an opportunity to tell that special someone how you feel, and have a little fun indulging in some romantic pastimes together.

Turn it into a Pal-entine’s Day

Who says that Valentine’s Day has to be limited to you and a significant other? We say: expand the holiday to include a celebration of your pals and your friendships. For women, there’s the now-ubiquitous term Galentine’s Day, which is when female friends decide to celebrate their friendships and each other. But regardless of your gender, turn the day into one for you to have fun with your friends. Go out for a Valentine’s Day meal (brunch, lunch, or dinner – whatever you want to do) and maybe even consider exchanging little gifts to show appreciation. It’s a great way to turn the holiday into something for everyone to enjoy.

Celebrate yourself

Sometimes you want to relax and have a little time to yourself. Let Valentine’s Day be your day to show yourself some love! Whether you want to do something in the spirit of Valentine’s Day – buy yourself some chocolate, watch a romantic comedy – or just do something that you love – read a great book, play video games, go for a walk — choose something that will feel emotionally restorative.

Our Favorite Things about Holiday Season in America

With Thanksgiving coming up next week, it’s safe to say: the holiday season is upon us. In the US, Thanksgiving marks the start of a month of festivities, decorations, and general merriment in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas and the New Year. Christmas might have its origins as a Christian holiday, but admittedly, the holiday has become commercialized and less about a particular religion, and more about friends and family members celebrating and exchanging gifts. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, there are plenty of things to do in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year that give you a glimpse into American culture around the holidays. That’s why we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite things about the holiday season in the US.

Holiday lights

If you live on campus, we recommend grabbing some of your friends, renting a car (or a Zipcar) and heading out to the suburbs! There are so many neighborhoods where people drape their homes in thousands of lights and adorn their lawn with decorations befitting a winter wonderland. If you do a little internet research, it’s likely you can even find some neighborhoods in your area known for getting into the holiday spirit. Play some Christmas music while you drive by and admire people’s commitment to the holiday!

Mall Santa

Want your picture taken with Santa? Go to a local mall and meet him! Usually malls will put together a faux North Pole and allow people to pay a certain amount of money to take a photo with Santa Claus. Many malls hire a Santa specifically for the holiday season, ensuring he looks the part. Normally you’ll see little kids waiting in line for a chance to meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas, but this could be your opportunity to make sure you made it on the “nice list” this year.

Christmas movies

There are, of course, tons of classic American Christmas movies. You might be familiar with Elf, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and others. Gather some friends and have a Christmas movie marathon, coupled with some hot chocolate. There has also been a recent cultural phenomenon surrounding made-for-TV Christmas movies. These are movies made specifically for TV networks. You can find lots on Netflix, and even on the Hallmark Channel, which is known for some overly romantic (and maybe unrealistic) storylines, but that still prove fun to watch.

Holiday parties

We love any reason for a party – and the holidays are a great reason! People come together and listen to Christmas music, drink eggnog, and participate in general merriment. Some parties will feature gift-giving, while others will just focus on celebrating another holiday season and the approaching new year. In recent years, “Ugly Sweater Parties” have become extremely popular around the holidays. These ugly sweater parties require guests to wear sweaters that tend to be extremely festive and holiday-themed. They’re not ugly, so much as they are a little exaggerated in their commitment to the holiday theme. Whatever holiday party that pops up on your schedule, be sure to attend as they’re a great way to celebrate and meet new people.

Gift-giving games

We love being able to select the perfect gift for our friends and family members, but one of the other fun parts of the holidays is participating in popular gift-giving games. There’s the gift-giving game “White Elephant,” also known as “Yankee Swap” and “Dirty Santa,” in which participants pick gifts and get to swap them with others. “Secret Santa” is also a popular and more benevolent gift-giving game where members of a group assign each person a single gift recipient. That person then buys a gift for their recipient, but keeps their identity a mystery, usually revealed only after the gift has been given. These gift-giving games are a fun way to participate in gift-giving.

Christmas cookies

Every holiday throughout the year comes with its own traditional treats, Christmas is no exception. Christmas is generally associated with its cookies, and many people will have “cookie swaps” around this time of year to share their cookies with friends or family members and maximize their own treats. People will bake basic sugar cookies and then decorate them with sprinkles and frosting. This can be a fun activity to do as a group, or even just on your own – but be sure to share!

Tree-lighting ceremonies

Throughout the US, many cities and towns will host a tree-lighting or just a lights ceremony to commemorate the start of the holiday season. There might not be as much pomp and circumstance as you see in the movies, but it’s a great way to feel like a part of your community, and sometimes there can be other events planned in addition to the lighting – and usually hot chocolate and other treats.

Outdoor ice skating

With colder weather comes the perfect conditions for outdoor ice skating. Some cities and towns will transform a part of their parks into a place for ice skating by creating a rink open to the public. Bring some of your friends, rent ice skates, and don’t worry so much about falling down! Be sure to wear warm clothes, a hat, scarf, and gloves so that you can enjoy the experience of skating without getting too cold. It’ll be a fun experience for you and your friends.

Giving back to charity

Though this time of year is special for so many reasons, one of the most special reasons is that it provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what we have, and how we can help others. In between all of the parties and festivities, don’t forget to think about others who might not be as fortunate. Participate in school fundraisers or charitable events as a way to show your support for others in the community, or consider volunteering your time at a homeless shelter or other organization serving those in need. Helping others will make you feel good and is great way to cap off the holiday season and your year.

American Football for Beginners

They say that America’s favorite pastime is baseball, but if you’ve ever observed a Sunday, Monday, or Thursday night at a bar or pub, you’ve likely noticed that everyone is there to cheer on their football team. Football is an extremely popular American sport — though it’s not to be confused with the “football” that the rest of the world watches. American football is a lot different than its global counterpart, which Americans refer to as “soccer.” American football is a sport that both fans and non-fans alike gather together to watch, not just because of its entertainment value, but because of its cultural importance. That’s why we’ve compiled a handy guide to understanding American football for any beginner out there who wants to understand more about the sport (and the cultural phenomenon).

The Rules of the Sport

In football, two teams play opposite each other on a 100-yard field (that’s 91.44 meters) with the sole purpose being to score the most points in a 60-minute game, consisting of four quarters (15 minutes each quarter). Each team is comprised of 53 players, with 11 players on the field at a time, depending on if they are playing offense or defense against the other team.

Each team tries to move the football into the opponent’s end zone, which is located at the end of the field, to score a touchdown. A touchdown is worth six points, but you have the opportunity to score an additional one point with a field goal or an additional two points with an additional play.

Teams move the ball down the field through a series of plays. The offense must move the ball 10 yards down the field, every four plays (called downs). To get a first down, the team must successfully move the football 10 yards. Teams do this by either passing or handing off the ball to their teammate, while the opposing team tries to block the pass or stop the running from making his way down the field.

When It’s Played

32 teams play in the National Football League, or NFL. The NFL football season begins in September and lasts until the end of December or early January, with the final game of the season being the Super Bowl, which occurs sometime in January or even early February.

Games take place on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays throughout the season.

Cultural Impact

American football is more than just a sport – it’s a bonafide cultural phenomenon in the U.S. Many people are fans of the sport due to their love of the game itself, but even non-fans watch football. This is because of the culture surrounding football games. For those people who watch the games in person, it can be a day-long event that starts with tailgating – a term which refers to people gathering around in the parking lot of the football stadium, grilling, listening to music, and hanging out by their cars until the game begins. It’s something that everyone can enjoy, even if they’re not necessarily a big sports fan. Similarly, for those people watching at home, they might invite friends over, and plan snacks, drinks, and food around the game. It’s a reason to gather together and support a team – or engage in a little rivalry. As a result, watching football sometimes transcends the sport itself and more so prompts the social activity or feeling of camaraderie. Even if you’re not sure you’re interested in the sport itself, we highly recommend attending a game or game-day social gathering to get a sense of what it’s like to support one of America’s favorite sports.

5 Reasons Why We Love Fall

It’s finally feeling like fall. The air is crisper, people are starting to wear their sweaters, and the pumpkin spice frenzy has officially spread to coffee drinkers. Summer tends to get all of the fanfare when it comes to favorite seasons, but we’re here to make the case as to why you should love fall in the U.S.

Leaf peeping

Depending on where you live, you may be able to witness the magic of Mother Nature as the leaves start to change colors. As the chlorophyll in leaves starts to break down, they go from their natural green color to a vast array of colors normally associated with fall: reds, yellows, and oranges. There are places across the U.S. where you can see this phenomenon in action. The New England area tends to be known for its prime leaf peeping locations, but there are other states where you can catch a glimpse of these radiant colors too. Enlist a few friends, rent a car, grab some hot chocolate, and drive around taking in the colors.


Fall in the US tends to be homecoming season. Homecoming literally means “coming home” – but when used in the context of your university, it tends to mean the time of year (usually a weekend or week) when alumni return to campus for various school-focused events. You may have first been introduced to the concept of a “homecoming dance” in US TV shows and movies. Some universities may have those, but mainly homecoming consists of a big football game or sporting event, and other fun events geared towards reuniting alumni with each other, and providing ample opportunities for bringing the student community – of past and present – together. Check out your school’s event calendar to see what sort of fun activities your university has scheduled for homecoming.


Calling all candy lovers! Halloween is definitely a reason to love fall. For one thing, there are lots of Halloween-themed events, sites, and activities usually planned throughout the month of October. Throughout the country, there are pop-up theme parks that you can go to where they have multiple haunted houses and rides intended to scare and thrill you. Many cities and towns have ghost tours that you can go on that will show you the spookiest spots and share scary stories.

Additionally, someone is always throwing a Halloween party this time of year – expect the weekends, and days leading up to Halloween to be filled with opportunities to have fun with friends in your spookiest (or most clever) costumes. People tend to take their costumes very seriously, with many planning weeks and months ahead of Halloween. Be sure to get your costume ready ahead of time as many of the Halloween stores tend to sell out as you get closer to the holiday. Finally, if parties or haunted houses aren’t your thing, you can always hand out candy to kids in your neighborhood. Stock up on candy in advance, leave the light-on outside of your apartment (or put some fun Halloween decorations up on your door) and wait for trick-or-treaters to knock!

Apple-picking and pumpkin-picking

Sure, at first glance, it might seem like “apple-picking” and “pumpkin-picking” is just picking fruit. But going apple-picking and pumpkin-picking are fall past times. It’s more than just about the “picking” of the fruit – it’s about the entire experience. You go to an orchard or a farm with some friends, and you spend the day selecting some apples or the perfect pumpkin (did we mention it also makes for great Instagram posts?!) After you’re done picking, you can either enjoy the fruit of your labors (sorry for the pun – we couldn’t help it!) or you can indulge in the various snacks the farm likely has to offer. Many farms offer things like hot chocolate or apple cider and cider doughnuts for purchase, offering the perfect complement to a day of picking. Take your apples home to bake into apple pie or apple crisp, and carve your pumpkins into a spooky design just in time for Halloween.


Baseball might have the title of America’s favorite past-time, but it’s football that really has America’s heart. You can find many Americans every Sunday gathering together to watch football, whether in person or on TV. It’s a distinctly American sport, and there’s something for everyone, whether or not you’re really into the sport itself. For starters, many colleges and universities have football teams. We definitely recommend attending a game at your school, even if just for the camaraderie and school spirit alone. The games are usually a day-long event, with people tailgating, meaning that they’ll host a pre-game event with food, music, and drinks to prepare for the game. If you want to watch a pro team, in-person is really fun, but you can have a great time gathering around a TV with a bunch of friends to watch at home. Even if you don’t love sports, there are always plenty of “game day” snacks – think Buffalo chicken wings, nachos, chips and dip – and usually some great commercials in between the game.

How to Celebrate on the 4th of July

Just as summer starts to heat up, one of the funnest American holidays approaches: the 4th of July. Many countries similarly celebrate their own Independence Days, but the United States inevitably celebrates in its own distinctly American way. There’s no better way to enjoy some of American culture than to participate in this holiday, so to help you join in the festivities, we’re giving a little background into the 4th of July, and how you can celebrate.

What’s the 4th of July?

The 4th of July, July 4th, or Independence Day (as the holiday can be called) is a holiday intended to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that marked the country’s autonomy from the rule of Great Britain. Though the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 2nd, 1776, the document was then ratified by the Congress on July 4th, and so the holiday is celebrated on this day, when the wording was actually approved. The 4th of July as a holiday symbolizes this declaration of freedom and independence, one of the fundamental values held by Americans.

Ideas for celebrating

It’s more than just a day off from work or from school. The 4th of July is a celebration is truly a celebration of the country, the American people, and the core values that founded this country. Right after the 4th of July was established as an American holiday, citizens would celebrate with “concerts, bonfires, parades, and the firing of cannons and muskets, usually accompanied by public readings of the Declaration of Independence,” according to History.com. Since then, those festivities haven’t entirely changed – you can still attend concerts, bonfires, and parades in cities and towns across the U.S. However, today, it’s more commonplace to attend a fireworks display, than the firing of “cannons and muskets.” There are also now other ways Americans celebrate Independence Day, and though some of the newer traditions might be different than those of centuries ago, ultimately, the day is meant to emphasize a feeling of unity as Americans.

Attend a local parade

Many towns and cities throughout the country commemorate 4th of July with a parade. You’ll see citizens of that town or city line the streets, finding a spot and setting down their chairs or blankets to sit on to watch the parade procession. During the parade, you’ll see floats, cars, horses, and various groups from the town or neighboring towns walk down the street, waving American flags, wearing red, white and blue, and often playing or dancing to American folk songs. It can be really fun to watch the parade procession, so check out what’s happening in your town or city for the 4th of July, and find out the parade route so you can plan ahead.

Listen to a public reading of the Declaration of Independence

There are some cities and towns that will still do a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, so if you’re a history buff – or just curious as to what the Declaration of Independence actually says – consider seeing if there’s a reading local to you. NPR (National Public Radio) has done a reading of the Declaration on the air, if you’re interested but feel like listening from the comfort of your own home.

Watch a fireworks display

It’s normal to hear the sounds of fireworks on 4th of July, or even the weekend before or after the holiday. Many towns will select an evening (not always on the night of the holiday) to put on a fireworks display, where you’re able to watch the sky light up with various colors and designs as produced by the fireworks. Sometimes these shows are set to music, but other times, they’re simply there to delight and inspire awe. Grab some of your friends, and find a spot where you can get a great view of a local fireworks display.

Attend a barbecue

Arguably one of the easiest ways to spend your 4th of July is by attending (or even hosting your own) barbecue. A typical barbecue on the 4th of July consists of grilling hamburgers, and hot dogs, and serving up typical dishes like potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, and fresh fruit. People will gather outdoors or in a friend’s yard, and play lawn games, go swimming (if there’s a pool), and just have a good time together.

Attend an outdoor concert

Outdoor concerts are fun in the summertime, but are especially fun on the 4th of July. You can attend many across the country that will play American folk songs, and other songs to commemorate the holiday. You don’t have to know the songs to enjoy the music. You’ll get a great sense of American culture from the way that the concerts can bring people together and invite them to celebrate together.