Contested as it might be, it’s inevitable for university students nationwide to have a hankering for home. At some point or another, in that interstitial space occurring before true comfort on campus and complete cognizance of social, academic and personal independence, students undeniably hope for the comforts of home-cooked meals, music and culture. That’s why the Office of International Services (OIS) is sponsoring the event, Around the World Asia (ATW: Asia), a single stop in a series of featured regions of the world.
It can be hard to be away from the familiar and immersed in something that’s not, no matter how much we remind ourselves of the virtues of free play and discovery. Of all the demographics represented on campus, the one for which this assertion might most acutely resonate is probably the international students, who are usually the most geographically and culturally dislocated from their homes.
Fortunately, the Office of International Services has plenty of practice with the wide-eyed, wonder-filled class of new students. For faculty and students involved in the organization alike, this whole predicament makes sense and they have worked to provide a home away from home with ATW: Asia, an event which offers cultural cuisine and conversation for Vassar students.
Students must align to strict study schedules and are only encouraged to depart campus during breaks. This requires immense travel coordination between planes, cars, trains, the gambit, as well as an endless ream of government documents to work through and strict regulations to attend.
This seemingly regular task can be daunting for many international students. As a result, a portion of students every year decide to stay on campus. International students are stranded– sometimes in a literal sense of the word since a very large number of students are here on F-1 and J-1 visas–in an entirely strange situation. That’s part of the reason the OIS has worked so hard to put on programming and provide support for international students.
Around the World has been one of the more popular and well-attended events to arrive from the OIS. The event is conducted over about 80 days and is a means of cultural recognition of culinary and communal connection to students’ differing origins.
Around the World Asia is the last leg of that immersive four-part journey. Compared to Around the World Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, ATW: Asia operated on the idea of indulging in another culture through culinary and linguistic culture.
Preparation for the day began nearly half a week in advance when student organizers Post-Bac Shani Cox and Nicole Shu ’16 sent out emails and forms for food preparation ideas and sign-ups. Distributed to all students with even a vague association to OIS, event coordinators Tyler Wen ’18 and Niki Hrusa ’16 censured as comprehensive a collection of students’ requests as possible.
For example, students were encouraged to submit dishes dear to their hearts to ensure that various regions were represented, as well as various distinctions within these areas. In this way, ATW: Asia included both a generalization of the notion of what is global infused with a local traditions from the regions represented by international students from Asia on campus.
The old adage of “team work makes the dream work” proved especially applicable the night before the event in a joint effort in two different locations, where Cox and Shu spearheaded a student effort to create, compose and preserve dishes as much as possible before the actual event.
As OIS Student Intern Tyler Wen ’18 describes, “The dishes and various regions were volunteered by our students and they could choose whichever dish to cook. We organized a shopping trip on Monday to buy all the ingredients requested by the students and handed them out to everyone as soon as possible. The preparation events were really fun, because they’re great opportunities for bonding through food-making.”
In the wake of this occurrence, Wen and Hrusa prepared for the social climate of the event by organizing student performances and interactive discussion. The brainchild of both, ATW: Asia featured trivia based on topics from Asia, regionalized performances from provinces in China and extensive elaboration regarding nuanced practices in India and surrounding regions.
Hrusa recollected, “We had Patrick Wei perform the Erhu, which is a traditional Chinese instrument, as well as Esther Xu that performed a classic Cantonese pop song.”
While the event lasted only three hours, time itself seemed to seize with the sheer amount of student participation. Apart from the stellar food, the main highlight of the night was round-table discussion for students. The event provided an open space for students to chat about home, and their cultural differences and similarities. Wen noted, “ATW Asia is our most popular ATW event in terms of both food and participants–usually we expect around 20 to 30 participants for the other events, while ATW Asia can sometimes reach over 50 or 60 people.”
The event coordinators anticipated a wide demographic of student participants and tried to emphasize the value of listening. Wen elucidated: “This event is mainly designed for students from Asia to share their own personal experiences and cultures with anyone who is willing to listen.”
Nicole Yaw ’18 affirmed, “It’s also a great way for others to better understand the culture, cuisine, etc. of Asia. The event was very successful, as we had a great turnout and the discussion/trivia portion of the event was very active. We were expecting primarily international students to come, as this event was largely designed for them. Usually a good amount of American students come as well, which is also our intention.”
Remarking on their culinary experience, Aditi Chandna ’19 [full disclosure: Chandna is a staff reporter for The Miscellany News] confessed, “The food here is nothing like back in India, but today I had a taste of authentic food for the first time in ages. It’s really good! Since it’s been so long since I’ve had authentic cuisine, I almost forgot what it tasted like!”
Continuing, Min Choung ’19 chimed in, “I forget sometimes that people here are just like me and can’t always go back home every break, so I’m just really glad that there are people who relate to me and understand what it’s like to be away from friends and family for a while.”
Amaesha Durazi ’19 quickly confirmed Choung’s feelings: “Unfortunately, Min, we wouldn’t know what that’s like since you’re always here! You never leave, so how can we miss you when you when you’re never gone?” All jest aside, Durazi continued in earnest, “But I do get what you mean. I miss my family back home, too; I wish I could see them more often.”
Despite the homesickness brought out by the event, coordinators considered ATW: Asia a great accomplishment precisely because of the due discourse it inspired.
As Wen noted, “We primarily use active discussion and turnout as baselines of success. In the case of Around the World: Asia, all markers measured an immense accomplishment of our goal of pulling off another great event.”
After all, despite all the boisterous banter befalling members throughout the event, students were quick to resonate upon the higher tones of the community in which they were currently a part of.