We aren’t big Thanksgiving people. Not really, anyway.
Unlike a lot of people, we don’t spend time with family over the holiday (unless you count that crazy Thanksgiving we spent with fellow Peace Corps volunteers). Instead, we’re more likely to travel, especially over the last few years when we’ve hosted foreign exchange students.
Here in Ukraine, Thanksgiving obviously isn’t a thing (though, strangely enough, Black Friday is … go figure). A couple weeks ago, there was a small Thanksgiving potluck dinner at Cory’s school for the American and Canadian expatriates, which was fantastic, but on the holiday itself, Cory had to work and it was business as usual around town.
Except, even when we first talked about moving abroad, our kids were eager about the idea of us hosting the American holiday at our Ukrainian home.
And why not? It’s a tradition many of them celebrated while exchange students that doesn’t take away from holiday time with their natural families, plus we all live so close to each other now.
And so, Thanksgiving in Ukraine became a reality.
On Thursday morning (officially Thanksgiving Day), S flew in from Stockholm, where she’s currently attending college. M and L flew from Copenhagen and arrived Thursday evening. (B was also planning to come, but the Lufthansa strike kept him grounded in Germany, unfortunately).
We packed a lot into our short three days together.
One afternoon we walked through the local park, and I told them about the running trails the cross-country kids train on. We drank cappucinos in cafes around town, and played games together. We spent Saturday exploring Kyiv, snapping photos at several of the city’s beautiful churches, wandering down St. Andrew’s Descent, taking the funicular and feasting on Georgian food, which was a new experience for all three of them. S and I even made it to a yoga class and a ballet at the opera house.
And Cory, of course, made a stellar Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey breast (a full turkey wouldn’t fit in the oven) and fresh vegetables we had delivered to our door from a local farm right outside of town. (Like the awesome host dad he is, Cory also helped teach S how to make cinnamon rolls and risotto, in order to diversify her cooking repertoire, now that she’s living on her own.)
We laughed, chatted and stayed up late.
We haven’t seen S since she left the United States, and this was the first time M and S had met each other. Even with technology instantaneously connecting us, there’s nothing quite like spending time with each other in the same room.
M, S and L are all at a pivotal point in their lives. We were fortunate enough to be a part of their day-to-day lives when they were about 16 years old, and now they are all on the cusp of their early 20s. As S mentioned, adulting is hard to do, and it was interesting to hear them talk about the decisions they’re being faced with now.
Should they attend university, and if so, what should they study? What do they really want to pursue in their professional lives? Is the trade-off of a college experience worth the money of moving away from home? How do you make new friends in new surroundings? How do you make the most of a gap year? What now? What next?
I know some host parents lose touch with their exchange students over the years, but I feel like our relationship has deepened with many of our kids. As they’ve gotten older and started to dip their toes into the responsibility-laced waters of adulthood, our relationships have evolved in new and positive ways, and for that I am thankful.
(A big thank you to L, who provided the first photo.)