Sharina Taveras Lopez spent last Thanksgiving in Boston, preparing recipes from the Dominican Republic and dancing for hours.
This year was different: The Rhode Island native ate turkey and stuffing at an English professor’s northern Maryland home.
“It was going to be really complicated for me to get home, so I decided to stay here,” said Lopez, an 18-year-old freshman at McDaniel College in Westminster. “My mother keeps asking me, ‘Are you okay? Are you comfortable?’ ”
Lisa Breslin, her hostess, made sure she was. “When you walk into our home,” she told Lopez, “assume that it’s your home, too.”
Breslin had invited her entire freshman seminar to Thanksgiving dinner. On Thursday, she sat down with her husband, their two college-age daughters, an admissions staffer, Lopez and three other students.
College campuses turned into ghost towns this week as students traveled home for home-cooked meals, free laundry service and visits with high school friends. Some students stayed behind: Home was too far, the trip was too expensive or they wanted to put in hours of work or study.
There are also record numbers of international students at many schools, and they often seek to immerse themselves in a tradition that celebrates America’s earliest immigrants.
These students are sometimes rescued from the lonely dorms by friends, roommates, distant relatives or co-workers. Some professors and researchers have made it a tradition to surround their dinner tables with an assortment of students. And as the numbers of students remaining behind has grown, some colleges have organized on-campus feasts.
Georgetown University’s international office hosted a traditional dinner Thursday evening. The University of Virginia paired foreign students with local families willing to add places to their tables.
George Washington University President Steven Knapp and his wife invited students to their Foggy Bottom home. And at Catholic University, the chaplain organized a free luncheon for more than 40 undergraduate and graduate students and their families.
The Rev. Jude DeAngelo began with a blessing that recognized “all the nations represented” at the white-linen-covered tables. In addition to students from California, Utah, Chicago and Boston, diners were from Iran, China, Russia, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and France.
A group of freshmen from the West Coast decided to stay on campus together, creating a kind of second family for the holidays. On Wednesday night, they cooked stir-fry in a community kitchen, and their Friday night plans included cheesy chicken and rice.
“We’re all freshmen, so we have bound together,” said Matthew Yost, 18, a musical composition major from Salt Lake City. He started stockpiling food in his dorm refrigerator last week.
On Thursday, however, they were happy to let professional chefs prepare them turkey, ham, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, yams, mashed potatoes and fresh fruit. Faculty members donated pumpkin, apple and pecan pies. And no one had to swipe their meal card.
“It’s delicious,” declared Yost, halfway through a loaded plate.
The luncheon marked Qifeng Yu’s first Thanksgiving meal. Yu, a civil engineering graduate student from China, was excited to try the American dishes. He planned to have them again Thursday night at a professor’s home.
“Everyone is so nice,” said Yu, 27.
As the students finished their desserts, DeAngelo asked for a show of hands to see how many people wanted to take home leftovers. Nearly every hand went into the air, prompting laughter when DeAngelo told a priest his hand had to stay down. DeAngelo stacked containers next to the buffet and urged students to take pies with them; the dining halls will not reopen for days.
“It’s a little hard being away from home,” said Nicole Foronda, 31, a history graduate student from California who usually spends Thanksgiving baking pies with her sister. “But there’s a great community here.”
Post photographer Linda Davidson contributed to this report.
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