Monday, February 28, 2011

Giving Thanks Around the World

By: Alix Hines
     Thanksgiving is a time when many VCU students travel home to be with their families to celebrate the blessings they have received throughout the year, but for International students this may be lonely time because they are far from their own families. Luckily, every year VCU places international students in the homes of area residents, faculty and students for the holiday. The program is called, “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student.”
     “About 75 percent of the international students who study in the United States never enter an American home during their entire time of study here. We want to give students opportunities to be in American homes to meet Americans in the community. Our hope is that they will develop friendships, learn more about American culture,” says Pam Haney, the global student services coordinator at VCU.
      “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student” gives International students a chance to not only learn about American culture, but to share their own culture with their hosts as well. Haney adds, “Most international students come here alone. They don’t know anyone. They have left their family and friends far behind so it can be a lonely time for them being without those support networks they have in their home countries.”
      Ahmad Altarifi, an International grad student from Jordan, will enjoy his third Thanksgiving in an American home this year. He has attended Thanksgiving in two different households, and he remains in close contact with the families he meets each year.
      “The first time when I went, I didn’t know the story or tradition behind this holiday. I was excited because it would be a totally new experience for me,” he explains.
      Altarifi has not been back to Jordan in two years. He says that meeting with other families, sharing stories and problems has made it easier for him to live here without his family. By visiting an American home, he says that he is becoming more familiar with American culture and he is able to teach his host families a little more about his own culture.
      Last year, Altarifi says, Thanksgiving fell on the same day as an important holiday in Jordan called Eid al-Adha. This is a time of celebration in Jordan where families visit one another bearing gifts. There is also a traditional slaughtering of sheep on that day, and the meat is then distributed to the poor as well as friends and family members. This year the holiday will fall on November 16.
      According to Altarifi the best part of the experience is, “You (have) found somebody to trust and people that trust you.” He says he would encourage other international students to participate in this program to:
       • Learn about American culture
       • Form new Relationships
       • Teach Americans about traditions in other countries
      Altarifi points out, “There is not that big of a difference.” Taking a day to give thanks goes beyond American culture, it is deeply rooted in many cultures, and it is simply a matter of taking time to open our eyes to the world. For more information regarding “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student,” contact Pam Haney at or call 828-8309 by November 15.

Haunts of Richmond

By: Alix Hines
      Ghosts in bathrooms, vampires in a local cemetery, and people trapped in a tunnel - sounds like a horror movie, right?
      Haunts of Richmond is a local group founded by Sandi and Scott Bergman that leads ghost tours around Richmond. If you're into paranormal activity or just need something to do on the weekend, these ghost tours are sure to entertain you. Haunts of Richmond consists of four tours that explore the spooks in Richmond. There is a Pub Crawl for those twenty one and older, but for everyone else there is the Shadows of Shockhoe Tour, the Capitol Hill Tour, and the Church Hill Chillers tour. All four of these tours put a supernatural spin on Richmond history by engaging the tourists in eerie stories. The ghostly tales leave tourists wondering what's lurking around the next corner.
      French teacher and ghost tour guide, Marcia Skiffington explains, "If I have somebody on my tour that's never been to Richmond before, I want them to, at the end of the night, to go, 'this is a really cool town,' and I've won. If I can scare (the tourists) in the process, that is just a bonus!"
     The ghost stories originate from all parts of Richmond. Skiffington adds, "Every personal experience that someone has had is an addition to the tour."
      Skiffington explains that all the hype over shows like Ghost Hunters encourage people to believe in ghosts, or try to prove the stories wrong.  By beginning each of the tours at the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, she is able to capitalize on the tourists' fears by letting them wander around the haunted garden before telling them about its unearthly inhabitants.
      As Halloween approaches, Haunts of Richmond increases its tours to two tours per night on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. If the ghost tours capture your interest, Sandi Bergman also hosts the "Blood Lake Tour" through a haunted house during the Halloween season.
For more information regarding Haunts of Richmond tours go to .
Skiffington also reminds us, "It's cooler in the Shadows."