In the winter of 2021, each guest brought a gift to the host of the Thanksgiving dinner that day. The host, who returned to finish his bachelor’s degree after 10 years, was like a father to us, and his wife was like our mother, a savvy financial lady with a glittering smile and an even fonder heart.
The table was stacked with many familiar dishes like the ones back home in Mongolia.
All the Mongolian students present were near the brink of tears as we enjoyed the feast and reminisced about the times of warmth with our families across the oceans. We were grateful for our culture and community. But above all, we also knew one more thing: We were grateful to be here.
Yet, as we approach Thanksgiving, we ask the annual question: What does gratitude mean?
Beyond the world’s noise and hassles, polls show that most Americans feel gratitude not just during Thanksgiving but every day. In addition, international students have an above-average global satisfaction rate with studying in the US, even with high living and tuition costs.
American universities’ connections and programs allow for a great depth of liberal arts exploration that is uniquely identifiable to America. Specifically at UC Berkeley, international students collaborate on tremendous, cutting-edge research with world-renowned professors, which is part of the reason why students from across the globe come to live in the International House. These programs are why many international students may prefer flexible, comprehensive studies in the US rather than one based solely on exam scores decided during grade school back home.
Yet, I also believe that beyond the classroom, the appeal of the American university for international students is the American people, to whom I express my gratitude. In today’s divided world, it feels like the whole nation can only be brought together by one sizable disastrous event. However, it does not have to be that way.
At the core of American unity is its people’s diversity.
The massive, monocultural towns outside the metropolitan cities contrast the minority-majority-led community of Berkeley, where the majority of the student population is Asian at 35% and white at 20%.
However, race is just one factor. The religious fractionalization index displays the probability that two individuals drawn randomly from the country’s groups are not from the same group. The US has the second-largest index in the world at 0.82. In contrast to a monocultural society in Mongolia, where your university friends may be in the same echelon of family income, race or social status, one can find a different mind in America by simply attending an event or a community group. These varying perspectives and opportunities excite an international student from a faraway country on another continent.
From “The Epic of America,” the historian James Truslow Adams popularized the term “American Dream” as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of one’s inherited class or wealth.
I still firmly believe that is the case for families coming to the US.
Social mobility for children of immigrant parents ranges from a 5-10% wage increase between first and second generations — statistically raising the average social mobility index in America. Meanwhile, for other countries, such as Norway with its high social mobility, the system is harsher for non-natives than natives and statistically breeds below-average upward social mobility for immigrants.
Though life in America for international students may not be perfect, an appreciation for all the country offers through its people, culture and opportunities should never be overlooked. Gratitude does not mean ignorance of the pervasive problems facing international students but emphasizes what has been and can be accomplished for those traveling thousands of miles to America’s lecture halls.
This Thanksgiving, I will be hosting the largest Mongolian student networking event of the year, and I hope to emulate the feeling of warmth we had in Thanksgiving of 2021. We will create a space where Mongolian students living all throughout the US can come under one roof to eat and breathe the same culture. I hope to extend to one another the gratitude derived from the communal value each of us brings.
Hence, we work towards content and improved life in America with the lively hope for better outcomes derived from our efforts. We can be even more grateful that we are not in a worn-torn state and that we can freely pursue education. Though such progression may feel like a competition with others, it becomes a privilege to worry under a clear sky with fresh water in our cup in the morning.