An International First Year's Guide to Thanksgiving Break

Category Student Voices


Photo of Faseeh, HFAI Coordinator
Faseeh Class of '27
Authored on March 29, 2024


Being an international first-year student is a rollercoaster of emotions. Within a few weeks, you’re juggling a new system of academics, interacting with people from vastly different backgrounds than you, and learning to adjust  to a new lifestyle away from home. While every day is a special start to your new learning journey, there are some extra (think awkwardly colorful decorations) special days that soon become a new part of your life at college.

If you’re an international student like me, the only reference points you have to American holidays are holiday-themed movies, TV shows and Instagram reels, presenting a vivid image of a decorated, cozy atmosphere with tons of (and I mean tons) of food. 

Thanksgiving break is one of the most anticipated holiday breaks for students. Coming in right before the end of the Fall semester, this much needed recess is one that brings the buzz of excitement to the first-year crowd. While there is no one right way to spend your Thanksgiving break, this blog serves as a snapshot of all possible ways my amazing friends and I spent our break this year and what you can expect from yours in college:


Taking a much-needed break on campus: 

One of the most special ways to spend your first Thanksgiving break is by taking a much needed rest from the semester and staying on campus with your friends. The fast-paced college life can really start to become stressful, and there's no better way to cool off and take a restful break than staying on campus and enjoying your free time. This is an ideal way to catch up on some pending work, sleep in on weekdays and hang out in the common room basically every single day with your friends staying back. Some of my friends ended up checking out the Harvard Museums, Libraries and other fun places on campus that we put off during the semester due to time constraints. And finally, the biggest perk of enjoying your break on campus - the Annenberg Thanksgiving feast! Each year, the Harvard University Dining Services staff put forward a delectable themed-feast for Thanksgiving, with lots of traditional food and decoration. It's a cozy way to really enjoy a fun evening with great food.


Enjoying some impromptu day excursions in Boston or the nearby towns:

Some of my friends who stayed on campus ended up going on impromptu Boston trips, exploring the city and enjoying the views along the harbor. Simply walking along the Newbury Street, sitting in the Boston Commons, visiting the port site, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate at the Boston Public Library, and trying out one of the many restaurants the city has to offer makes for a comfortable and thrilling experience. There are simply too many things to do in Boston if you're looking for more planned events like football games and concerts, and using the Thanksgiving break as a way to explore the city on multiple days, makes for an enjoyable experience. It’s also really easy to get to the city, with the red line taking 20 minutes from Harvard Square to the center of the city. If you're more into exploring rural landscapes and visiting small towns, the Thanksgiving break can be a great time to do so by taking a bus or train and spending the day there. There really are countless ways you can make the most out of your break by exploring different elements of the Greater Boston Area, whether you prefer meticulous planning or impromptu day trips. 

Me and My friends in Boston Public Garden
My friends and I spending the day at the Boston Commons. 


Traveling to  other cities with your friends (or solo!): 

Another way to enjoy your Thanksgiving break is by visiting some of the nearby cities for a short day trip or for the weekend. Being an international student, it’s a must to explore other parts of the country, and one of the most accessible is New England, such as New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Providence, which are all an accessible distance away from Cambridge and each of them have many new things to do. I ended up spending 2 days of my break in New York City, where I met up with a high school friend and visited all the top tourist spots in the city.

I also spent the majority of my break in Long Island at a Harvard friend’s house and celebrated the holiday in the most traditional way possible. It was an amazing experience to be a part of someone’s traditional holiday experience and join in the festivities, feeling a big part of the lovely family. We had a lot of fun going on walks near the beach, playing with Cooper (the cutest dog ever), having late night conversations over snacks and playing card games (Resistance!) at 3 am. It genuinely was one of the highlights of my first semester in college. It also made us realize how much we enjoy being around each other, and was a critical reason for our decision to block together next year onwards.  

A spread of thanksgiving food.
The amazing pre-thanksgiving spread - we ate we too much that week (thanks to Ava and her family!)


College holidays are fun and thrilling – you get to decide how you wish to spend your break with the people you are closest to. The semester picks up pace very fast and it’s challenging to balance your academics with all your other commitments. These breaks are a time for you to a take a step back and reflect on the myriad of opportunities available – be it for travel, an enrichment program or simply staying on-campus and enjoying a much needed rest. 


Wind along the beach
The three of us at the beach, being hit ruthlessly by the wind.


Cooper trying to run out like always. He's cute though. 


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Faseeh Class of '27

Hello! My name is Faseeh and I am a first-year at Harvard College studying Applied Mathematics and Chemistry (probably). I grew up in Pakistan, and had never travelled internationally until I came to Harvard.

Photo of Faseeh, HFAI Coordinator