GOSHEN -- Peni Acayo has only had two years to learn Thanksgiving traditions, but it's new experiences like that the 22-year-old Goshen College volleyball player from Kampala, Uganda, is thankful for.
Acayo, who attends college on a partial academic scholarship and a partial athletic scholarship, said leaving the country to further her education was a radical step for her family, especially for a daughter.
It took a lot of coaxing to convince her mother that she'd be safe and would one day return.
It seems like yesterday that Acayo was a nervous freshman, living in a new country where she didn't know anyone, she said.
Now the junior pre-architecture student has lots of friends, a boyfriend from school, an on-campus job and the distinction of being the first Goshen College volleyball player to be named Mid-Central College Conference Player of the Year.
"I'm really thankful for the fact that God has sent me this far," Acayo said.
What interests her the most about the American holiday is the grand efforts families make to reunite for it. Though she's come to realize that, often, the holiday is more about turkey than gratitude, having an entire day devoted to giving thanks is a nice concept, she said.
This year, she'll celebrate Thanksgiving with her boyfriend's family in Michigan. In past years, she's had dinner at a coach's house and the home of a family she connected with through Goshen College.
She's also thankful for -- and ecstatic about -- the opportunity next month to visit her family in Uganda. She hasn't seen them since she left for Goshen College in 2007.
When she left for Indiana, her mother warned her how difficult and expensive it would be to fly home to visit. Acayo said she saved up for the plane ticket working in the college's Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center.
Her mother, two older brothers and huge extended family are so excited to see her that every one of them wants to go to pick her up from the airport, Acayo said. That's far too many to fit in a car, so they'll probably rent a bus, she said.
"I haven't been home in two and a half years," Acayo said. "It just makes me realize how good God is, giving me that strength."