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Foreign students at Pitt enjoy Thanksgiving in Western Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 6:06 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Harry Edelman, 58 and wife Elaine Edelman, 57 of the Strip District are hosting 23 people including extended family and an international college student at their home for Thanksgiving.

When Harry and Elaine Edelman sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with 20 assorted relatives in their Strip District home, they will make an extra place at the table for Aqsa Kaleem.

Kaleem, a native of Pakistan, is a student at Juniata College in Huntingdon in Huntingdon County. She is among more than 11,000 foreign students in Western Pennsylvania, most of whom will spend this quintessential American family holiday thousands of miles from their own family.

“Often, students are literally alone and lonely,” Harry Edelman, 58, said.

As the international student population has grown, so have organized efforts to introduce those students to American traditions such as Thanksgiving.

At the University of Pittsburgh, where faculty and American students have reached out to foreign students informally for years, an effort took shape last year when 67 foreign students attended a Thanksgiving dinner Pitt held for them at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association.

“Some students go home with friends for Thanksgiving, but I knew a lot of them didn't have anywhere to go,” said Shantia Key, an international programming coordinator and adviser at Pitt.

“When I asked the students what they'd like to do during Thanksgiving and winter break, they said, ‘What we'd really like is a Thanksgiving dinner.' ”

More than 140 foreign students registered to attend Pitt's second annual dinner at 3 p.m.

“They're really excited,” Key said.

The Edelmans are empty nesters.

They reached out to Kaleem through Global Pittsburgh. Harry Edelman has been active with the nonprofit organization, which works to ensure that foreign leaders and students have opportunities to make personal contacts in the region.

Like the Edelmans, retirees Irene and Leon Skolnick of Oakland have hosted foreign visitors repeatedly through referrals from Global Pittsburgh.

“You get so much out of it. It's a way of traveling without leaving home,” Irene Skolnick, 76, said, recalling visitors from Poland, Russian and China among others.

“We had a young Chinese student from Carnegie Mellon last year. She was very charming, and my grandchildren had an opportunity to meet her. My older grandson got to explain Thanksgiving to her and show off his knowledge.

“I'm a foreigner myself, so I think it's nice for foreign students to meet local people,” said Skolnick, who was born in Poland and went to school in France.

Harry Edelman has traveled extensively. But a well-thumbed passport and fluency in multiple languages are not requirements for hosts. Edelman said Global Pittsburgh works with hosts to ensure visits are comfortable and successful for all involved.

“We look at it as an opportunity to learn. We enjoy it,” he said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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