International students enjoy home-cooked meal

December 2, 2019

On Sunday, Nov. 24, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell and her husband, Ted, welcomed six students from China, Vietnam, South Korea and Ethiopia, who are thousands of miles away from their families, into their festive home for a holiday feast. The students experienced what Thanksgiving is truly about—coming together in the spirit of unity, kindness, and gratitude. 

“This is when we give thanks for the blessings in our lives,” said Chancellor Horrell, seated with the students at her dining room table. “I want each of you to know that we count you in our blessings.”

Thinking outside the box

Three years ago, Chancellor Horrell found herself asking, “Have our international students visited an American home?” The question sparked conversation among university leadership about ways to help international students feel further connected to their new community in Denver. From there emerged CU at the Table.

Each year before Thanksgiving, the Office of International Affairs (OIA) and CU Denver Alumni Relations join forces to recruit staff, faculty, and alumni to host a Thanksgiving meal for international students, who make up about 7% of CU Denver’s student body. The intimate setting allows for candid conversation, connection—and lots of laughter.

“A very meaningful time” 

In Chancellor Horrell’s third year hosting at her Wheat Ridge home, she welcomed the students to a seating area with comfortable couches and an assortment of appetizers—melt-in-your-mouth baked cheese crisps, a vegetable platter, and candied pecans. She handed each student a champagne flute filled with sparkling apple cider. They smiled. “This is a very meaningful time,” said Vy Vo, from Vietnam, who is earning her bachelor’s in international business from the Business School. 

Chancellor Dorothy Horrell talks to a student at a meal hosted as part of CU at the Table.
Chancellor Dorothy Horrell visits with student Haili Wu

They sat in a circle and began chatting. Chancellor Horrell initiated the conversation with thoughtful questions. Where are you from? What are you studying? What do you like about Denver? What do you find challenging? She stepped out of her role as chancellor and opened up to the students, sharing personal stories of how she and her husband met and details about her time living abroad in Taiwan. “A challenge for me was learning the sentence structure,” she said. The statement resonated with the students. 

They responded with similar candor. While they don’t always like the food in Denver, they love the sunshine, they agreed. “I can’t wait to try skiing,” said Wang Yukun, of China, who is earning his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the College of Engineering, Design and Computing. 

And although being so far away from their families has been difficult, the educational opportunities are tremendously rewarding. “I really do think a lot more is possible when you have an education,” said Haili Wu, a mother from China who is furthering her education as a graduate student in the CU Denver School of Public Affairs. 

Giving thanks

After an hour of getting to know one another, Chancellor Horrell led the students to the deck, where they stood in awe of the view: an orange and pink sunset lining a dark silhouette of the mountains. She gave them a tour of the inside of her home, pointing out things of sentiment. On the wall hung a photo of her grown daughter, who is getting ready to welcome a second baby girl. Horrell and her husband’s excitement over being grandparents was contagious. The students, equally as happy, were quick to offer their congratulations.

The final stop was the dining room. The students took their seats and turned their attention to Chancellor Horrell. She explained that the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to give thanks for life’s blessings. For her, that includes the international students who choose CU Denver as a home far away from home. 

Hear from the hosts

“Quite a global evening. It was great to have young, smart folks around. We look forward to other opportunities.” – Cassie Perlmutter (MA ’90) 

“We had an incredible evening and it was a treat for our group of curious, independent, world traveling, multilingual women to be together and share stories. With two of the women from different parts of Thailand and one from the Republic of Congo, we all learned about one another’s backgrounds and passions. We talked about our areas of the world and cultures, including zooming into their towns on Google maps to ‘see’ their homes.” – Jane Ratzer (MA ’15) 

“I can’t wait to host another dinner!” – Brandon Figliolino (MPA ’18)