Vickroy: Bridgeview family’s worldly Thanksgiving
In addition to sharing stuffing and cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving, the Errant family will be bridging cultures at their holiday feast.
This will be the Bridgeview family’s third year inviting foreign college students to their table. This year’s 14 guests hail from India, China, Syria and Uruguay. All are students at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side.
Katrina Errant, an electrician and a Bridgeview trustee, is studying for a master’s degree at the technical college. About 59 percent of IIT’s student population hail from other countries, and 94 nations are represented on campus.
“It makes us one of the most interesting places,” said Mike Gosz, IIT’s vice provost for admissions and financial aid.
In 2003, to help students assimilate and to give them a much-needed break from their studies, the school organized a Thanksgiving host program, asking commuter students as well as staff and faculty to invite a foreign student home for the holiday dinner. Shannon Ingleby is in charge of this year’s program, which has 22 hosts welcoming 95 students into homes across the Chicago area.
Jiacheng Wu will be dining with a family in Chicago’s Lakeview community.
“This is a very important opportunity to learn about traditions and to communicate with an American family,” he said.
Wu, a Ph.D student studying mechanical materials and aerospace engineering, said he plans to bring his host family a small gift, something that will serve as a conversation starter about his homeland China.
“Thanksgiving is actually like a relief, an official time to relax,” he said, adding that likes homemade turkey, which is much better than the turkey he has had in restaurants.
Yuan Jiang, who also hails from China, is a master’s degree candidate, studying financial math. He said he welcomes the opportunity to have fun as well as learn more about the American lifestyle.
Thanksgiving, he said, is similar to Autumn Festival in China as well as Chinese New Year in that extended families come together for extended feasting.
Errant said she is proud of the diversity that IIT brings to Chicago.
“When I started going to school there, I was really impressed with all the different cultures and languages,” she said. “I just love it.”
So when the school sent out an email asking commuter students to consider inviting far-from-home residential students over for Thanksgiving dinner, she jumped at the chance.
“We’d invite anyone who needed a place to go anyway, neighbors, friends,” she said. “We’ve always had a big dinner.”
That first year, Errant, her husband Kenny and their four kids had two foreign guests to dinner. Last year, they had five. When this year’s guest list swelled with the addition of 14 students, the Errants began to wonder about space.
Then Kenny’s employer, BJ McMahon’s Restaurant in Oak Lawn, offered the use of a party room. Katrina also asked Bridgeview officials if she could use a van designated for senior citizen transport to drive the students to and from the IIT dorms. Village officials gave the OK.
“In the previous years, the students would take the (CTA’s) Orange Line, and I always felt bad sending them out in the cold,” Katrina said.
In addition to several turkeys, the Errants plan to serve ham, a huge salad, casseroles, broccoli, cauliflower, stuffing and cranberry sauce. They’ll also have a huge sweets table.
“The students seem to love that, they take lots of pictures of the desserts. Maybe they don’t get that back home,” Katrina said.
She said her student guests are studying mechanical and aerospace engineering as well as business, marketing and, like her, industrial technology. They range in age from 19 to 27. All are very bright, she said, and seem to be at ease living in a foreign country.
“They are so good at adapting. They seem to love the opportunity to practice their English,” she said. “I just love listening to their stories.”
The experience is also rewarding for the Errant’s children — Zachary, 24, Danielle, 23, Nicholas, 18, and Tessa, 10. Tessa takes the list of student guests and locates their home countries on a map, Katrina said, and also makes the guests goody bags to take back to the dorms.
The Errants have remained friends with some previous guests.
“This is just something we enjoy doing,” Katrina said. “”We learn from them, the cultural differences. I want my kids to be able to mix and mingle with ease, to not be afraid of other cultures.”
In addition to tending bar at BJ McMahon’s, Kenny is a guitarist with the band Hurricane Gumbo.
“Bringing people together is what Thanksgiving is about,” he said.