Turkey, gravy, mash potatoes, pumpkin pie, pilgrims and Indians, watching football – For someone growing outside the United States, this is just a list of randomly enumerated terms, with tenuous or nonexistent correlation whatsoever.
Coming to the United States, especially without prior notion of what living in a country like America really is, can be more than stressful and demanding. And all that amplifies when students are coming from a country that not only is a far cry, in more than many ways, from the United States, but also shares a rather painful memory with it, though from two, again, utterly different perspectives.
Serbia, during the long course of its history, has had more than its fair share of wars, conflicts, exoduses, genocides and all that tarnished the human endeavors, which isn’t an exaggeration, from the inception of human civilization. One event or series of events would be more suitable, that particularly stands out in the mind of the common people there, are the aerial attacks of NATO forces that ravaged Serbia for more than three months. The biggest exponent and executor of this unconventional and dubious method of foreign politics was, in fact, the United States of America.
So, how do students, members of a nation that has rather disparate customs, mentality and overall worldview from those present here in the States and, in addition, vivid recollections of all that war has to offer, assimilate themselves in an autochthonous American holiday. Surprisingly or not, quite well. And this might be one big euphemism as well.
Mary Ann Palmer and her husband Robert Wayne Palmer are, what you would call, typical Americans, in the best of ways possible. Being born and raised in the Midwest hasn’t provided them with the opportunity, as some other areas of the United States would, to engage in a lot of international or multicultural relationships. All that changed abruptly but fundamentally, like it often goes in life, on one unsuspecting crisp afternoon.
Mary Ann Palmer is a senior citizen who, because of the gravity of her medical condition, requires help with the even the most basic of household chores. One day, approximately eight years ago, she stumbled upon a baffled international student in search of someone who was hiring for the aforementioned purposes. One thing led to another and one student soon brought a friend who, in return, brought another friend. Within the same timeframe, rudimentary chores around the house evolved into something more, and bonds of mutual affection have been forged. The rest, though this might sound a bit corny but reflects the situation in its entirety, is history.
Four Serbian students eventually graduated, but many came in their place. And it expanded to encompass students from Africa and Asia as well. That is how the story of “the Global Grandma” came to be.
When you walk into the house of the Palmers’ inconspicuous estate in the nearest proximity of the Marshall airport, one can’t miss the pictures hung on the walls featuring every international student who walked through the house, stayed over breaks or simply enjoyed the hospitality and warmth that remain unmatched in the lives of these young individuals.
“I love every single one of them to pieces,” were the words of, in front of the camera, quite coy Mrs. Palmer, a woman of remarkable storage of positive energy.
This relationship as a general rule culminates immediately before and during Thanksgiving festivities. There is something intrinsically comical about inept international students trying their best to conform to the customs so alien to them.
“At first, it was rather impossible to identify myself with the holiday that I only learned about watching sitcoms and movies,” said Velimir Stefanovic, a sophomore from Serbian capital, Belgrade. But don’t they say that genuine affection and benevolence transcend everything?
All differences, every palpable misunderstanding or occasional instance of language-related hindrances, faded away in the moment when the turkey, with all the goodies that come with it, was laid out on the table. Grandma, it is pointless to refer to her in any other way at this point, recited the grace, not forgetting to mention how “young ones” enriched hers and her husband’s lives.
Chewing, nibbling and gnawing ensued, but not devoid of atmosphere that is so distinctive when we think about Thanksgiving. Solemnity, and yet genuine exhilaration, exuded from every gesture, every small talk.
“On that day, like on many other days, there is no place where I would rather be,” said Sasha Devic, a senior from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the end, Thanksgiving and its essence come down to the family. What we perceive as family differs from case to case. For the Palmers, every Missouri Valley College international student who crossed their threshold automatically earns a lifelong membership. It really doesn’t matter whether they know who the 11th president of the United States was or what story, either a fabricated version or historically accurate one, lies behind Thanksgiving holiday. They learn eventually, as she will make sure they do. But until then all that really bears significance is that these young men and women are thousands of mile away from home, and she strives to alleviate that.
It is hard to write about something so poignant that you have found yourself personally moved, which can hamper objectivity, but this story is, in fact, interwoven with the most recent history of the college in an inextricable manner. Grandma’s house is a sanctuary, in a way, for so many students who walked the Valley campus, that she “feels like a student her herself.”
College and its tradition and values are not solely related to courses, staff, professors, students and athletes, but with those little intangibles that actually make it stand out, make it unique. And in a sea of uniform institutions of higher education, it is a great thing that MVC holds onto these “smaller” aspects, which, in return, make this school a lot bigger.