Campfire Conversations: A Holiday Treat for International Students

English 101 students gather around a campfire.
International and American students share stories around a campfire

December 05, 2023
Dale Goodwin ('86 M.A.T.) | Spirit Newsletter

English Professor John Eliason is teaching a section of English 101 this fall semester, and over half of his 20 students are from international locales.

Knowing they might not have a place to go for Thanksgiving – and that they’d probably choose food over a Tuesday class on Thanksgiving week – he and his wife, Alix Voorhees, invited his entire class to their house on the South Hill for Thanksgiving dinner . . . on Oct. 19.

To make it a more interesting learning experience for his students, Eliason stipulated that the students must come together to his house, on public transportation. So they rode the City Line downtown to the STA Plaza, and transferred to a bus stopping several blocks from the Eliason-Voorhees house. They walked the rest of the way together. A unifying experience, for sure.

"This event counted as a modest gesture toward highlighting the value of coming together and literally sitting ‘round the fire to learn a bit more about who were are and where we’re from." - Professor John Eliason

A beautiful dinner was created from scratch by Alix, who formerly ran a catering company., and sShe and John engaged the students in a conversation about the differences and similarities in food from their countries as compared to U.S. cuisine and the kinds of food they would be having in their cultures at this time of year.

Eliason created a bonfire in their back yard, something some of the students had never experienced. Sadie the dog and Mittens the cat served as comfort animals as “We talked a lot about making connections culturally and the global engagement happening in context of a dinner on the South Hill with students, my wife and me,” Eliason says.

"At Gonzaga, we value and promote global engagement, and part of the reason for that is because becoming a “whole person” requires understanding oneself in relation to other people who come from different backgrounds and offer diverse perspectives. This event counted as a modest gesture toward highlighting the value of coming together and literally sitting ‘round the fire to learn a bit more about who were are and where we’re from,” says Eliason.

When it was time to depart, Eliason told students they didn’t have to take the bus and could choose their own way back to campus. “They all got on their phones and summoned an Uber ride.”

Some of Eliason’s students responded with their impressions of the event.

Student Responses

  • “It's the first time I've been to an American house.” – Kim, from South Korea
  • “It was super fun getting together with our whole class for this dinner as we all have grown very close over this semester.” – Lucas, from the U.S.
  • “It was a heart-warming experience that gave some of the new international students a new experience and a chance to feel what living in America really feels like.” – Yuqi, from China
  • “I liked the way we told stories around the circle, the atmosphere around the campfire...the way we were at the same place at the same time, connected all together.” – Maksym, from Ukraine
  • “When I came to the United States, I had some concerns. I was worried that the people here might not be so friendly, that I might get racial discrimination problems, and that I might not be used to the food here. But once I got to know the professors and students at Gonzaga University, I realized that my worries did not exist. – Lin, from China

A giving spirit shines bright in the Eliason-Voorhees household, and all in attendance at dinner that night were the happy beneficiaries.

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