With another Thanksgiving crossed off the calendar, our stomachs are full, our fridges are stocked with leftovers and one couple from Colombia is reflecting on their first year celebrating the American holiday.
Susana Orrego Villegas and her husband, Edward White, international students living in Brookline, Massachusetts, were able to spend their first Thanksgiving with a neighbor they didn’t even know a month ago, all thanks to a posting on the website Nextdoor.
“Our first Thanksgiving Day was terrific,” Orrego Villegas told CNN. “All the food was divine.”
Orrego Villegas is on a student visa at Harvard, and when her classmates began discussing their Thanksgiving plans, she got curious about the American tradition, since Colombia does not have a holiday like Thanksgiving.
On October 26, she posted a photo of her and her husband to the Nextdoor app asking if anyone was willing to share Thanksgiving dinner with them. In the post she wrote, “We are a super lovely couple and want to know more about American culture. I want to have our first traditional Thanksgiving with an American family.”
The post received hundreds of responses from neighbors offering them a seat at their dinner table in the town a few miles southwest of Boston. But nurse practitioner, Carol Lesser, was the chosen host for the couple.
“She got a lot of offers of where to go,” Lesser told CNN. “I told her, ‘Wow, we won the lottery. You guys are coming to us!'”
The kindness of strangers
And on Thursday, the couple joined Lesser and more than 20 other guests to celebrate the holiday around a traditional table laden with turkey, stuffing and green beans.
Orrego Villegas raved to CNN about their experience and how welcoming Lesser and her family were. “Not only were we eating a delicious meal, but we talked with each member of the family. We felt a part of the pod.”
“We felt an instant connection,” Lesser said to CNN. “They stayed for 8 hours and spoke with everyone. We discovered so many similarities.”
The neighbors even discussed flipping the situation by having Lesser visit the couple’s hometown in Colombia.
For Lesser, the decision to open her home to strangers was an easy one. She told CNN that for nearly 30 years she’s been renting out rooms in her house to international students in the area.
“When I was young, I traveled and if it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did about the cultures,” Lesser said.
She added that the message Orrego Villegas had posted struck a chord.
“This beautiful woman’s post spoke to me. She had a genuine curiosity in what we do here for the holidays.”
A candle in the darkness
Other neighbors who weren’t available on Thanksgiving Day offered to meet up with the couple another time, and the pair spent time with a few families even prior to the holiday.
“The people were super friendly,” Orrego Villegas said. “One family gave us an American heritage book and the other showed us pictures of when they visited Colombia.”
Orrego Villegas and Lesser both say this experience has given them hope about the community. The two women expressed how it’s important to be a candle in the darkness and to be kind to your neighbors.
Orrego Villegas says her view on Bostonians has changed. “Here in Boston my first impression was that many people don’t say hello on the streets. After this post I realized that people are super kind and welcoming.”
Lesser says she looks for moments where people can reach out and trust one another.
“It’s a no-brainer for me, to act as though what you do makes a difference,” Lesser said. “It does.”
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