5 things Americans celebrating Thanksgiving abroad want you to know.

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and gathering together in gratitude. And that doesn't have to change if you're an American living overseas.

As the unofficial kickoff of the "holiday season," Thanksgiving is a celebration of all things American: food, family, football, and colonialism. And the pull of cozy traditions and comfort food can be mighty this time of year — even for those who've left the United States behind to live abroad.

I wanted to find out how U.S. expats celebrate the most American holiday of them all, so I connected with a few women who live overseas with their families. They told me about some of the more, well, surprising challenges they've faced — including a potato embargo! — along with new customs they couldn't wait to try.


Whether you're living abroad or you're missing someone who is, here are five ways Americans are throwing an expat Thanksgiving in 2017.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

1. It's hard not to get a little sentimental about Thanksgiving foods and flavors — but experimenting with ingredients from a new place is half the fun.

Ashley Lunde moved from Madison, Wisconsin, to her husband's home country of Oslo, Norway, two and a half years ago. At first, she insisted on bringing the spices and foods she was familiar with to Oslo. But now, she blends the traditions and flavor profiles she's learned from her Norwegian family into the typical American Thanksgiving dishes.

"The turkey is baked with celery, carrots, and onions (was our tradition at home), but [I] have added grapes, apples, and pears as well to the mix. Food in Norway tends to be sweeter, (mixing meat and berries for example, is very common)," she writes in an interview over Facebook Messenger. "We also use lingonberry instead of cranberry, and rømme (a Norwegian version of sour cream) on 'grove rundstykker,' which is whole grain Norwegian bread made into dinner rolls."

Lingonberry sauce. Photo by Helena Jacoba/Flickr

Rachel Watson lives with her husband and daughter on a Marine Corps Base in Iwakuni, Japan. While the base has many comforts of home, there's an embargo on certain types of American produce including potatoes and apples.

"So, we will be using Satsuma sweet potatoes, which have  purple-ish skin and whiter flesh than an American sweet potato," Watson writes via email. "There are no Granny Smith apples here either, so for apple pies and other apple dishes, I'll be experimenting with some Japanese apple varieties."

Rachel Watson with husband Zach and daughter Maeve. Photo via Rachel Watson, used with permission.

2. This holiday is all about family — and no matter how you feel about social media in your day-to-day life, it makes it easy to stay in touch with loved ones.

Shelley Strelluf and her husband, Chris, decided to look for opportunities overseas following the presidential election. Her husband accepted a position in Coventry, England, and the couple and their two young children arrived earlier this year from Kansas City, Missouri. Staying connected with friends and family literally an ocean away is challenging but doable.

"We video call via Messenger with my mom about three times a week (same difference as Skype, the app was just slightly easier for her to use)," Strelluf writes via e-mail. "Sometimes we talk, sometimes she just likes to watch the kids play for a little while... So it's not the same as having her around, but it could be a lot worse. I'm grateful for the technology."

Shelley's husband Chris, with their two children, William and Emily. Photo via Shelley Strelluf, used with permission.

3. It's hard to make friends when you're in a strange country — so play an active role in building your new community.

Making friends as an adult doesn't come as naturally as it used to. But making friends as an adult in a new country, where there can be different social norms along with a language barrier, is flat out tough.

For Watson, she's made a concerted effort to seek out new friends — especially important, as her husband is currently deployed with the Navy. He won't be back in Iwakuni for Thanksgiving, so she's celebrating with her infant daughter, Maeve, and a new community on-base.

Lunde is part of a group in Oslo called the American Women's Club, that hosts a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The women were invited to discuss their experiences living abroad as well as some of the traditional foods from their part of the states. The U.S. Ambassador to Norway even addressed the group.

"It was really nice to spend the evening with other Americans, sharing a home cooked meal."

Photo by Phil Denton/Flickr.

4. But continuing to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving is about more than being homesick or missing turkey. It's about honoring cultural identity and tradition.

Lunde and her husband welcomed a son, Espen, last year. Raising him to know and appreciate the many facets of his heritage is of the utmost importance.

"We really want to bring him up incorporating traditions from both our home countries, regardless of where we may be living at the time," she writes. "I think weaving a few Norwegian details into Thanksgiving is a creative way to do that. Hopefully celebrating in this way is something he'll grow to appreciate and enjoy."

Ashley Lunde, holding Espen beside her husband Paal and her in-laws. Her mother-in-law is wearing her traditional Norwegian "bunad." Photo via Ashley Lunde, used with permission.

5. No matter where you are in the world, or how much you've decided to embrace your new home, nothing beats pumpkin pie. But be prepared to accept substitutes.

In the states, pumpkin pies and canned pumpkin are sold everywhere from gas stations to department stores this time of year, but good luck finding one in other parts of the world.

Says Strelluf, "Something that is NOT a thing is pumpkin pie, so I guess if I want that, I'll have to figure out how to make it." Here's one blogger's idea for making that happen (with sweet potatoes — as long as they aren't embargoed, too).

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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