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Fall Fest Gives Students a Home Away from Home for the Holidays


The holidays are a great time to come together with friends and family to share a home-cooked meal and remember what you're most thankful for. But it can be tough for students who are far from home, sometimes celebrating away from their families for the first time. That’s why, at The American University of Paris, we’re grateful for our tight-knit community gathering in person at this year’s Fall Fest – the Student Government Association’s (SGA) inclusive holiday celebration, held to coincide with American Thanksgiving.

Fall Fest is organized by the SGA’s first-year representatives, who this year are Halley Hoellwarth and Jennilynn Garcia. The pair started planning the event in September, taking charge of event logistics from organizing the decorations to booking the Grands Salons rooms in the Combes Student Life Center. “We wanted it to feel like Thanksgiving at home,” explains Halley. “Holding it in the Combes building really helped make it cozy.”

For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, students were able to share a meal and celebrate together in November. Fall Fest officially returned last year but was only able to offer students takeaway options due to ongoing sanitary protocols. Sharing a meal in person was therefore a key priority for this year’s organizers. “My favorite part was seeing how much everyone enjoyed being in person,” said Halley. “The atmosphere was great!”

Around 275 community members showed up to the event. “It was wonderful to see people having somewhere to celebrate the holidays,” says Jennilynn. The AMEX Café catered the savory portion of the meal, providing over 200 kilograms of turkey for the evening. To make the event feel even more like a family Thanksgiving, students were asked to contribute to a dessert potluck. Jennilynn brought a chocolate cake to share: “There was everything from brownies to pies and muffins,” she says.

One of the main aims of Fall Fest was to create a welcoming environment for all students on campus, regardless of whether they celebrated American Thanksgiving. “It was important to keep the name Fall Fest to be inclusive of all cultural backgrounds and beliefs,” explains Jennilynn. “We didn’t want anyone to feel like they weren’t welcome or that they couldn’t come.” In this way, Fall Fest retained the tradition of sharing food, while acknowledging the diverse nationalities of AUP students; over 100 nationalities are represented on campus.

Another tradition that Fall Fest continued is expressing what attendees are thankful for this year. “I’m really grateful I ended up at AUP,” says Halley. “I always expected to stay in the US, but now I am here, I love it.” Jennilynn agrees: “I’m also thankful for the community I’ve become a part of here. I really feel like I’ve found my place.”