Alumni Couple Create an International Thanksgiving Tradition

Pam and Steve Cook hold a special place in their hearts and home for international students, especially around the holidays. The NC State alumni have been hosting international students for Thanksgiving through programs like the International Friendship Program (IFP) and Breaking Bread since 1989.

As students, the Cooks played pickup soccer on Saturday mornings, and many international students often came to play. Close friendships were formed, and the Cooks missed these relationships after graduating.

“Coming from a not very diverse, small North Carolina town, I really enjoyed the depth of these friendships,” said Pam Cook. “We went to the Office of International Services and learned about IFP and joined.”

The Cooks’ annual Thanksgiving gathering started out as a way to connect with Korean scholars and their spouses, who were in an ESL certification program at Duke University. The spouses confided in Pam Cook that Thanksgiving was the loneliest time of the year for them, and they wanted to celebrate an American tradition in an American home.

“Steve and I usually hosted international students later on Thanksgiving weekend due to our own family commitments, but after those conversations I told Steve we needed to have students at our house on Thanksgiving Day,” said Pam Cook. “Several of the Korean spouses came with their families, along with our [NC State] students and others, and it has grown over the years.”

What was once 15 people each at lunch and then dinner became larger and larger, reaching 200 guests at one point. Of course, great food abounds but the best memories come from fellowship, friendship and creating a new kind of family.

With the sharing of delicious dishes came important cultural exchange. The Cooks saw students whose home country’s’ governments were at odds with each other come together for a meal.

“People are really the same around the world in that they want to be in a relationship with others,” said Pam Cook. “Some students or spouses will make a dish [from their home country] to share, and it is my favorite part. At the end of the day, I sit down and pull out a plate with samples of foods from around the world, and that is my Thanksgiving dinner.”

This Thanksgiving tradition and the international circle the Cooks have created reflect the global nature of the Wolfpack family. Even after graduating, some students return to the Cooks’ for Thanksgiving, bringing fond memories of a couple helping make international students feel at home for the holiday.

“Pam and Steve’s heart for our international population is unparalleled,” said Lauren Ball, assistant director for programs in the Office of International Services. “They have made thousands of international students feel more welcome by opening their home during this special time of year and those that attend Thanksgiving at the Cooks remember that kindness well after they’ve left Raleigh. Pam and Steve exemplify what it means to be a part of the Wolfpack.”

The Office of Global Engagement recently launched an emergency fund to support international students in completing their degree programs when unanticipated crises arise. Students can benefit from contributions of any size at global.ncsu.edu/giving. You can get involved in programs like Breaking Bread through the Office of International Services.