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How Holidays Change for International Students
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How Holidays Change for International Students

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A section exploring how international students celebrate their traditional holidays in the U.S.

A section exploring how international students celebrate their traditional holidays in the U.S.

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  • 1. Perspectives 3.4.10:Layout 1 4/4/10 9:55 PM Page 1 PARALLEL 10 PERSPECTIVES VISIONS : G March 4, 2010 Mount Holyoke News One holiday thrives on the edge of two cultures BY TEMITOPE OJO ’10 Sweat Fall came late last year. The rusty orange I cannot connect with. An example is Thanksgiving PERSPECTIVES EDITOR dripped down that blanketed the Mount Holyoke campus Day, which I have learnt means different things to dif- my brow as I scenery only emerged in the last few weeks. On that ferent people. But all the same, I enjoy the festive meal stared straight Thursday morning, as I dressed up, I stuck a small of turkey, potatoes and the pumpkin pie with ice cream. ahead at the be- green-white-green badge on my blazer and took Nonetheless, I embraced some holidays because spectacled man in a off for the day. On my way to lunch, I came they carried parallel significance to certain remem- flowing powder blue across a bunch of friends. After exchanging bered days in my country’s history. For instance, the tunic. He was stand- greetings, one asked me, “Why are you not U.S. Inauguration Day, which is observed on Jan. 20 and ing on an elevated plat- wearing your green and white outfit?” is the day when a new president and vice-president are form, his hands raised in Then I pointed to my badge and re- sworn into office, is parallel to Nigeria’s Democracy a salute. Beside him, the sponded, “See, I am wearing the Niger- Day on May 29. It commemorates the return of a dem- Nigerian flag flapped in the ian flag. It’s Independence Day!” ocratic government to the nation in 1999, after pro- early harmattan afternoon. Like on several public holidays longed military rule. Another set of remembered days The school band was beating in the States, school in Nigeria is are Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, because though out a popular military composi- canceled on Oct. 1 and May 27, they are not marked on the same dates like back home, tion: the nameless tune I had Children’s Day. But four years these American dates give me an additional chance to marched to since my kindergarten after I left my home country, appreciate my parents in a special way. years. Over the music, I heard the my daily planners and cal- Then, there are holidays that will never change like parade commander shout out “At endars morphed, main- my birthday. Just like a personal holiday, the celebra- ease!” and in one swift moment I made taining the same dates tion evolves with each passing year but the meaning re- a right “wheel” in two calculated steps but bearing different mains the same. The best part of this day is the people and faced the front of the line, where I re- meanings. This I celebrate with. Their faces may change but their rea- sumed the march-past with thirty other meant observing a sons for celebrating are the same; the connection being students. As we marched past the man on new set of na- me. Now a whole day about me—what more could I ask the platform, applause rose from the by- tional holidays, for? standers. We had just saluted the Nigerian some of which flag and the President’s representative. It was after all, the Nigerian Independence day, Oct. 1, 2003. When American holidays become points of convergence WHEN A RIVER JOINS A BIGGER ONE, IT FOLLOWS THE STREAM. WHEN YOU JOIN A FAMILY, RESPECT THAT FAMILY’S TRADITIONS. —VIETNAMESE SAYING BY THU NGUYEN ’12 ASST. PERSPECTIVES EDITOR family, and until I at- tional students tended one myself. may face in an American classroom environ- eing an international student in the U.S. is, at The Thanksgiving hosting program ment. Last fall during finals week Van Handle or- B times, like drinking from a fire-hose. You feel a mix of emotions rise as you get off the green Peter Pan bus, half-confused and half-amazed. You feel it for international students, which has ex- isted for years, offers two alternatives—a dinner at a local family’s house or a stay with an alumnae ganized the faculty viewing of Culture Shock, the same movie that international students of the class of 2013 watched shortly after they entered when the International Students Orientation Committee for the whole or part of Thanksgiving. Donna Van Handle, Mount Holyoke. “Many faculty members want to (ISOC) members greet you and lead you to Blanchard to the Dean of International Students, said that around 30 find out how they can best approach international obtain the key to your first college room, or when you see students participate in the local families’ dinner event and students,” Van Handle said. “Sometimes it is just your first U.S. tax forms. The funny thing is, you don’t 15 students visit alumni in the New England and New York the most basic thing, like how to say hello and even know when American culture starts to permeate regions. This past fall, three international students spent what kind of food their students like.” your life through the most obvious way—holidays. their Thanksgiving breaks at the house of our President- This spring, international students received As the old Vietnamese saying goes, “When a river elect Lynn Pasquerella ’80 who, as Van Handle said, “al- an invitation to an alternative spring break pro- joins a bigger one, it follows the stream. When you join a ways welcomed students to come and stay.” The program gram, consisting of an educational trip to Boston family, respect that family’s traditions.” In the context of helps international students appreciate a very traditional to explore U.S. immigration issues. Daniela Pila such a diverse cosmos as Mount Holyoke, understanding American holiday and gain insight into the life of a typical ’12, organizer of the IIF-funded trip, wants inter- and respect for differences are central to the life of every American family. national students to know more about U.S. immi- student. As international students add American holidays Van Handle recalled with a passion other cultural pro- gration policy and multicultural issues. “As I see to their personal calendars, they integrate themselves into grams that the McCulloch Center has organized for inter- in my immigration politics class, many problems the bigger campus community. national students in the past. In February 2008, a dinner within this area do affect them,” Pila said. A na- Many U.S. holidays and traditions have become popu- for international students featured conversations about tive of the Philippines, Pila found inspiration from lar around the world. Mother’s Day, first celebrated by American historical issues such as civil rights. At a simi- her experience helping to renovate playgrounds Anna Jarvis of West Virginia, has spread to as far as lar event two months later, domestic and international in Fishtown, Philadelphia. She hopes to continue Southeast Asia as a day to honor motherhood, even students got together to share their experiences and in- the alternative spring break program in the fu- though there are many variations in celebration dates (Be- sights about one another’s values. Some interesting cul- ture. larus, for instance, celebrates Mother’s Day on Oct. 14). tural issues emerged. Growing up in different It’s hard to characterize an international stu- Yet, some American traditions are not well known to environments, many international students did not have dent’s “American experience” at Mount Holyoke. many international students as they require some histor- the same knowledge about American traditions and did Sometimes, you unknowingly learn from your ical knowledge. But whether you are passionate about dif- not share the same understanding about the States’ mul- classmates, roommates and floormates. Some- ferent cultures or not, it is always best that you know the ticultural society. times, you get your feet wet by jumping aggres- origin of a holiday rather than merely feeling satisfied On March 30, 2008, a generous Inclusiveness Initia- sively into a cultural ocean you have never with getting a day off from school or work. tives Fund (IIF) grant allowed the spring and fall interna- known. You drink, you eat, you laugh your way Before boarding the flight to Boston as a first-year stu- tional entrants of the class of 2011 to appreciate the through. There are times when you may feel iso- dent, I acquainted myself with American culture through immigration history of the United States via a trip to Ellis lated and welcomed simultaneously. But by your Wikipedia. However, my idea of Thanksgiving dinner did- and Liberty Islands in New York Harbor. Commencement, you will have learned some- n’t take shape until I listened to Thu Quach ’12 recall her Efforts have also been extended to faculty and staff to thing about the American culture that has en- memories of Thanksgiving dinner with a South Hadley introduce them to the unique challenges that interna- tered your life and stayed there.