The seventh annual Thank Fulbright – Thanksgiving took place on Tuesday, 28 November, just five days after the United States celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Research scholars, teaching assistants, students alums, friends, and staff joined together in Vienna’s fifth district at Waldviertlerhof for an unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner. Guests arrived in high spirits in spite of the rain and gathered outside to indulge in Punch and chestnuts (two Austrian winter classics) before moving indoors, where speeches were given and a multi-course menu was prepared with care, including vegan options and dessert. Naturally, a Turkey was carved, and conversation flowed as freely as wine.
Having gone alone, I sat with a table of strangers and socialized, noticing the way all Fulbright associates seemed to be excellent conversationalists. I took great pleasure in listening to detailed accounts of impassioned study and pedagogy, stories of colorful lives, young and old, Austrian and American. As a teaching assistant who aids in English classes at two different schools in Vienna, cultural exchange is something I find inseparable from my values, and I’ve always thought of myself as an enthusiastic learner and teacher. I found myself simultaneously immersed in the moment and reflective of what it represented.
For me in particular to be able to attend an event like this would not have happened without the generosity of the donors who ensured that their gifts sponsored US scholars, students, and teaching assistants. I do not come from a place of financial privilege, which is why it felt all the more meaningful that someone wanted me to be here and have a place at the table. While the dinner itself was phenomenal, the real act of kindness extended is an open hand and willingness to share. It’s the sort of gesture that says, “I want to share this experience with you because you deserve it too.”
I am often filled with gratitude when I think about the USTA Program and how I am able to assist in the education of Austrian youth, but living in Vienna, as beautiful and meaningful as it may be, isn’t without its moments of homesickness. When holidays like Thanksgiving arise, they provide a moment of reflection as well as an opportunity for gratitude, but they arrive alongside memories of Thanksgiving dinners shared with family on a snowy Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Events like these, however, remind me that I have a home in Vienna too: because of Thank Fulbright – Thanksgiving, I was able to experience some warmth and familiarity on an otherwise cold night, bonding with friends and affiliates of the program, connected by a desire for togetherness, which is, inherently, without borders or restrictions. Thank you, Fulbright Austria!