Joplin, MO –Enchiladas usually aren’t part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

However, as America changes and more foreign students and people from other nations reside in the United States, Thanksgiving is also changing.

Cynthia Torres, a senior English education major at Missouri Southern State University originally from Mexico, says her family plans to enjoy Thanksgiving “with a twist.”

“We celebrate the concept of being with family and eating with the people we love but add our own cultural background to it,” she says. “For us it has never been just turkey or ham. We have always had beans and rice or posole (hominy stew).”

Torres lives in Joplin but spent her early years in California. She says her family will enjoy their meal without turkey, mashed potatoes and other more traditional fare.

“At the moment, I am planning to invite some of my cross-country teammates to join us,” she says. “It’s pretty much an open invitation to any of my friends who want to try my mom’s enchiladas.”

Laura Zaidarzauva, coordinator for International Students Services at Missouri Southern, says 248 international students are currently enrolled at Missouri Southern.  The university encourages the students to have the holiday meal with area residents.

In Webb City, Jerry and Linda Keifer are one of MSSU’s “Friendship Families” who open their homes to international students. This year, they have opened their home to four students from Japan.

Jerry says on Wednesday, students will help prepare the pies, turkeys and ham. On Thursday, the students will come over for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Later in the evening, the group will help trim the family’s Christmas tree.

“We want to give them a taste of our culture to show them how we are thankful we are,” Jerry says. “It is a day we give thanks for everything that has happened in our lives.  We don’t try to push our views on them. We want them to have an experience.”

Jerry and Linda traveled to Mexico for missionary work for 10 years. In 2009, they hosted a student from Japan and two from Taiwan.  As the year passed, the students and the Keifers came up with the idea of a “family night” held each week.

“We love each one of them regardless of where they are from or the culture they have experienced,” Jerry says.

In 2012, the Keifers reversed the situation by spending 40 days in Japan, China and Taiwan. They met many of the parents and grandparents of students who had spent time at their home in Joplin.’

“It was quite an experience,” Jerry says.

Zaidarhzauva says similar events are being planned by other families.

Tracy Horton of Joplin, an MSSU alumnus, plans to have students from Saudi Arabia at her house for the Thanksgiving meal.

Daniel and Katie Bayes, who live near Missouri Southern, will entertain two students from Gambia and perhaps several other international students on “Turkey Day.”

Zaidarhzauva says some international students opt to use the Thanksgiving break to travel or use the time for individual or group study sessions.

-WWW.MSSU.EDU-