Firsthand account: Thanksgiving as an out-of-state student


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A piece of pumpkin pie.

By Janyce-Monique Johnson

We are finally in the month of November, which means Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. For many in-state NIU students, Thanksgiving is a time to visit home and have dinner with their families. However, for out-of-state NIU students, it’s time to figure out a way to travel home or opt-out of going home altogether.

I have been an out-of-state student since I started college. My family lives in Georgia, and for 18 years of my life, I spent Thanksgiving with them. However, when I decided to move out of Georgia to attend college, I found it difficult to find a way home for the holiday. My family celebrated Thanksgiving with me during my first year of college. I was living in Texas at the time, and my family drove to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. My mom helped me prepare the dishes, and I fed about 15 people, which included my immediate family and friends. This was the last Thanksgiving I had with my family.

The following year (2018), I couldn’t afford to go home for Thanksgiving, and my family could not come to visit. My Thanksgiving dinner was at McDonald’s with two of my friends, who both had Thanksgiving plans afterward. After we ate, one of them dropped me off at work, and they both left to have a real Thanksgiving dinner. I’m pretty sure I cried later that night because all of my family was together in Georgia, and I was the only one absent. It was the worst Thanksgiving.

In 2019, I went to Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with my significant other’s family. It was a brutal six-and-a-half hour drive in heavy rain and darkness. I’m not sure how we managed to make it in one piece, but we did. His family was very welcoming, and I had a great dinner with them. Later that night, my family members FaceTimed me to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. 

Last year, I spent Thanksgiving in DeKalb in my one-bedroom apartment. My significant other and I spent the day together since we both couldn’t visit our families due to work conflicts. We made a full Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, the sides, and dessert. We had a lot of leftovers since it was just the two of us, so I didn’t have to cook for several days after. Again, my family FaceTimed me to wish me a happy Thanksgiving.

This year, my Thanksgiving plans remain similar. I cannot afford to go home, so I am left with options to spend Thanksgiving with my friends’ families. I love going to NIU, but sometimes, especially around the holidays, I get homesick. Nearly all my family lives in Georgia, so when I can’t go home, it feels like I’m the only one missing it. I’ve had some decent Thanksgivings the past couple of years, and I appreciate all the people who have let me spend that time with their families, but nothing compares to Thanksgiving at home.