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Findlay offers taste of the holiday

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Taiwanese students Kitty Liao, in white, and Emma Huang, right, partake in the university holiday meal for foreign students.

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FINDLAY - Nagalalitha Kucherlapati enjoyed her first Thanksgiving meal yesterday, celebrating the distinctly American holiday with such traditional dishes as mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole.

However, the University of Findlay student left the turkey off her plate during a holiday luncheon sponsored by the school's Office of International Admissions and Services.

"I'm a vegetarian," Ms. Kucherlapati, 25, who is from India, said with a sheepish smile. "But it's a lot of delicious, yummy foods, a lot of variety. It's good exposure to other cultures. We're lucky to be here."

The first-year student in UF's master's in business administration program was among 200 students and staff who gathered for an early Thanksgiving feast in the Winebrenner Theological Seminary's TLB Foundation Convocation Center.

The buffet-style meal, free and open to all university students and employees, included turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The president's office supplied fruit punch, iced tea, and other beverages, and university employees brought in their favorite Thanksgiving side dishes.

Those ranged from tried-and-true holiday staples - cranberry relishes and scalloped potatoes - to dishes seen less often on Thanksgiving tables, such as baked beans and kielbasa.

Before the meal, students and employees could be seen carrying Crock Pots full of steaming delicacies into the auditorium.

Penny Gerdeman, UF's director of international admissions and services, said the event is intended to give the 431 UF students from other countries a chance to share a holiday meal while away from home.

"We invite everyone, but it's primarily for the international students to experience the Thanksgiving holiday," she said.

Ms. Gerdeman began the event last year after two overseas students stopped by her office and mentioned that they had no plans for Thanksgiving.

"They talked about how they had nowhere to go and how they really wanted to experience Thanksgiving," she said.

"It all started because of two young ladies coming to my office," she said.

Among the guests at yesterday's feast was DeBow Freed, president of the university, and his wife, Catherine. Besides providing the beverages, the couple donated bags of apples for the international students.

Mr. Freed said UF, which has international students from 35 countries, has bucked a trend of declining overseas enrollment at U.S. colleges since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

UF's recuitment of international students, assistance for those with visa problems, and popular programs in business administration and environmental and energy management have kept the rolls from shrinking, he said.

Events such as yesterday's luncheon help too, he added.

"The group that's doing this is just first-rate in how they respond to the needs of international students," he said. "This group headed by Ms. Gerdeman is just unsurpassed."

Francis Onduso, 30, an environmental science major from Kenya, said he enjoyed his lunch of turkey, noodles, mashed potatoes, and fruit and the company of fellow students - some of them from Findlay. "It is a very good thing, because a part of eating [is] people interact, and when they interact, they learn from each other," he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.

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