Despite its morbid sounding name and proximity to Halloween, the Day of the Dead is a joyous celebration of family, love, life and death. It is a day dedicated to remembering the souls of the departed by focusing on everything that they loved, and to celebrate close familial relationships. Since we Ustinovians consider ourselves to be part of one big family, the Ustinov Intercultural Forum decided to bring this festival from Mexico and Latin America to Sheraton Park, with the help of some of our fellow students from the Mexican Society. They helped to set up a three-tiered ofrenda (altar) near the entrance of the Ustinov Cafe, initially illuminated with candles, decorated with yellow marigold flowers, and photographic remembrances of departed relatives in order to give it a more personal touch.
We began the event with an informative talk by Dr. Pérez Marín (Assistant Professor / Deputy Director of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures), explaining the history and significance of this festival, and how it has caught international attention and is developing itself accordingly. Students who attended had questions to ask once the talk was over. She also shared some personal items to give attendees a better understanding of the festival. Once the talk was over, Ustinovians (as well as parents and their children from the nearby community) were invited to decorate sugar skulls that had been prepared previously. While the kids were engrossed in decorating their skulls with colours and stars, some of the attendees chose to make their own papel picado (paper cutting) decorations with some helpful instructions from the Mexican society, all with upbeat and catchy Mexican songs playing in the background.
Since we wanted to reward the kids for their hard work, a piñata was set up outside Sheraton Park, and each were given turns to try and break it open. As expected, there was a mad rush for the fallen sweets! At the end, some of the decorated skulls were put on the ofrenda, while the rest were either taken home or given to the Mexican Society for their own Dia de Los Muertos event at the Durham Student Union! All in all, the Day of The Dead event at Ustinov was a successful beginning to our Intercultural Forum events for this year, one that was enjoyed by attendees of all ages.
The idea of a tea event was born when I heard from some friends that they like matcha (green tea) flavoured snacks, and introduced them to the Japanese tea ceremony. However, I was also interested in the British afternoon tea, and the diversity of tea cultures which are seen in the world. Therefore, I decided to organize an international tea time event in which people could share selections of tea and snacks from their cultures with Ustinov’s multinational community and learn about each other.
At first, the community room was a bit quiet as many of the participants did not know each other. Yet once the brief presentation of tea and snacks was finished, the conversation never stopped, even after the end of the event. What I was interested in was a Taiwanese tea called ‘Oriental Beauty’, which both girls and boys are obsessed with, and an Indonesian-Dutch snack called ‘Kaasstengels’, a sort of cheese cookie. Also, in addition to matcha-flavoured snacks, one of my friends showed us how to make Japanese green tea in a traditional way using a ‘Chasan’ (茶筌), a bamboo brush, to stir the green tea powder. Some participants tried to make it by themselves and when they tasted it, they realized that genuine matcha is really bitter. Matcha is getting popular because of its health benefits, yet I would say that the matcha latte that you enjoy at a café includes a huge amount of sugar!
This was the second GCP event I have organized. I was particularly pleased to be able to create a communication space with the participants. I have experienced managing projects and events before, but they tended to be individual preparatory tasks. I have now gained new insights into building up communities, which is the key to enable us to support each other, get out from our comfort zones and engage with other people. The event came together thanks to all the support from my friends who kindly prepared tea and snacks, and the participants – (we are all friends now!).
I have been repeating this phrase since the first day I arrived in Durham. I enjoy this foreignness, this sense of exoticism, the feeling that I can start afresh because I have been reduced to a single identity, my nationality.
There are so many things to see and learn in England: I had never heard of Tesco before; 10 pence coins are bigger than 20 pence coins; the traffic is not in absolute chaos when cars drive on the left-hand side; the first floor is actually the second floor; and nobody says you are welcome; and Cheers means thank you or goodbye.
I have always been a ‘disruptive’ student. Taking in this much amount of foreign culture makes me want to talk back. So, when the Global Citizenship Program held an event called “South Asia and South East Asia Workshop” at the Oriental Museum, I couldn’t help but sign up. I assumed that because I am from China, I knew something about Asia, didn’t I?
It was one of those rainy days in Durham. Our expectations of a large turnout were diminished. However, at 2:30 pm, a small crowd of dedicated museum visitors gathered at the lobby. It is a compact museum. When we were led into the corridors, we even had to jostle for position in front of the exhibits. The first series of exhibits was from Tibet. Though I thought I could play Mr. Know-all, the illusion was immediately crushed. I soon found that I didn’t know the first thing about the province that borders on my hometown. For example, I didn’t know that Tibetans use human skulls as food and water containers, and they leave the dead outside decomposing naturally, and let wild animals feed on it.
However, as the curator explained, this is not because they are uncivilized barbarians, which was my first impression. Tibet is such a rocky, mountainous territory that there are practically no trees available to burn the deceased. And Buddhists believe that when a person dies, his spirit goes out of his body, so the body becomes an empty shell. The skull container and the sky burial custom were the products of these geographic and cultural conditions.
I felt so ashamed that I knew so little about the Tibetan while we are practically living in the same country. It was an eye-opening experience; I started to think that I’d better never assume that I know enough about a people, and always keep an open mind and have the willingness to communicate and learn from others, not least the people about whom I assume I have perfect knowledge.
The Ustinov Intercultural Forum (UIF) at Durham University hosted ‘Lost in Translation: A Café Culture’, an intercultural event, on 15 November 2017 to discuss similarities and differences between Japanese and English culture. Ayako Terui, a marketing postgraduate student from Japan, and a member of the UIF team, hosted the event.
“‘Lost in Translation’ was designed to discuss social and cultural issues and pop cultures that are dominant among the younger generation today”, says Ayako. Her interest in coordinating intercultural events began when she was an undergraduate student at Waseda University in Japan where she organised events to help Japanese students connect to the world. The event last week in Durham provided Ayako with the opportunity to re-learn her own Japanese roots through discussions and engagements with students from other countries and her understanding of the difference and similarity of Japanese culture with that of others. “Japan’s culture is very strict – it is very traditional and there are fewer opportunities for women”, says Ayako. “After spending time in Sweden and now in the UK, I have learned to appreciate my freedom but at the same time I have I have learnt to appreciate more of my own culture.”
Learning and discovering were central to ‘Lost in Translation’. Ali Darius Khan, a Physics postgraduate student from Pakistan came to the event because Japan feels like ‘a home’ to him. He lived in Japan and for him this event was an opportunity “to reminisce and to try and understand how people perceive Japan from the outside”. For Darius, this event presented many details about Japanese culture that made him understand it even better. “Ayako dug beneath the surface and the points she made were very authentic in the sense that she talked about the Japanese culture that Japanese people experience in day-to-day life. It really reminded me of my friends in Japan and of life in Tokyo”, he explains. “From the perspective of a Pakistani, the importance of respect, manners and politeness in Japanese culture is not unlike that of Pakistan”.
One of the main reasons that drew Ayako to organise this event was her interest in the Western culture. “I wanted to learn and speak English better”, she says, “But I also wanted to go into the world by myself to overcome the difficulties”.
‘Lost in Translation’ proved to be more than just getting lost in a foreign culture. It provided opportunities for students to discover and learn about themselves by comparing their own cultures to that of the others.
Red lanterns, paintings of Chinese landscapes, traditional red clothing, Fisher house in Ustinov college was filled with the bright hue on Friday, January 27th as students gathered to celebrate Chinese Spring Festival.
Edward McDougall from Durham Philosophy department opened the event with the presentation about the history and origin of Chinese New Year referring to philosophical aspects and hidden meanings of yin and yang.
While watching the Chinese New Year Gala – the most popular four-hour long TV show – students participated in workshops organized by the Ustinov Intercultural Forum and Café des Arts. Paper cutting workshop demonstrated the art of cutting designs out of paper and gluing them on a transparent surface, usually windows and doors. Designs of fruits, plants and animals on each paper represent a wish for the new year, for example, a pine tree symbolizes eternal youth. The paper-cutting workshop set the cheerful atmosphere and was followed by a challenging Calligraphy workshop. Participants were amazed by how much concentration is required to achieve a crisp stroke. Indeed, Chinese calligraphy is not only about writing but expressing yourself in the most aesthetic sense. An egg painting workshop turned out the most exciting. Participants covered eggs with acrylic paints and came up with individual patterns and symbols for decoration.
As the year of the Rooster arrived, envelopes containing cash were exchanged, which is a way to wish safety and good luck. This festive event was a reminder of strong connections to our cultural values and at the same time the celebration of diversity of students’ experience in Durham.
2017 Chinese New Year Celebrations, Ustinov College. Photo Credit- Alex Verzuh
The International Dress Day, which fell this year on Saturday March 4th, is a relatively new event to Ustinov College. The day has been created as a celebration of Durham Universities’ most diverse college as a casual and informal platform for meeting other cultures and celebrating the many cultural differences of the students that make up Ustinov. The guests were warmly encouraged to wear the dress of their country in an atmosphere which sought to bring people together through their dissimilitude.
The day began early as the Ustinov Intercultural Forum and Café des Arts arranged the location and arrangement of the decorations and flags for the event. The balloons were blown up and grouped together to be tied in place; the bunting hung from corner to corner of the Howland’s farm sports hall (a fun Spring event would not be the same without some bunting!) and fourteen flags from around the world hung across the back of the stage. The food was being prepared for the guests and the order of the performers was run through to check all was in ready and in place for the six O’clock start time. The only thing left to do was to wash oneself after the semi-arduous task of putting up the many decorations, get into the costume which many of the guests had thought over and put together across a period of weeks, and attend the evening’s festivities.
The evening began slowly as people began to arrive, mostly fashionably late. There were many native costumes from across Europe, South and Central America, and many parts of Asia, adding so many different colours, designs, and types of dress that you might wonder why this event is so young in age, given the history of the broad cultural diversity at Ustinov College. The performers were equally chosen to reflect the national differences that populated the event and being celebrated, including an Indonesian bamboo orchestra; Chinese dance and poetry reading; English poetry reading of historic and original poems, amongst many other individual and group events besides.
After the event, as people still mingled and chatted to one another, the decorations had to come down once more to leave the room as we found it. But the great many photos, live streaming from numerous smart phones and iPads and many albums created for the event on social media testify to its huge success and its growing popularity and status amongst Ustinov College’s GCP events.
The secret handshake of the UIF international dress party (Photo: GCP)
By Connie Kwong
Toprompt exploration and celebration of our many social, cultural, national, and religious differences. —Primary objective of Ustinov Intercultural Forum (UIF)
Being part of UIF is an identity I have proudly adopted since I joined the GCP. Being on the UIF team offers us great opportunities and flexibility in planning and organising events to understand differences and to promote and appreciate others’ cultures. It also allows us to learn about and enhance our capability and creativity.
The whole process involves intercultural communication. Working with a team of people coming from different backgrounds is such an enjoyable experience, as everyone has brilliant and innovative ideas, bringing in what is unique from their own culture. We also organised some events as a cross-team collaboration, such as a seminar on movement and identity with the Ustinov Seminar, Graduate Common Room (GCR), and Durham University Indian Society; and ‘Concepts of Home’ with Race, Crime, and Justice.
I guess you can’t wait to hear more about our events. Our team has put in so much effort in organising a wide range of events. We invited academics for discussions on cultural issues such as migration and identity, engaged people in interactive activities such as the language café and pinning the place(s) where you call home on the world map, and provided career advice for international students in an international career session.
Celebrating world culture is one of our themes this year, for people to learn about and appreciate cultures. We had the Festival of Lights (Diwali) Celebration in which the audience learnt the festival’s background, enjoyed Indian dance and music, got henna drawings, and tried authentic Indian sweets. The International Dress Party was another highlight. Everyone was immersed in colours of national dresses, fantastic performances—Indonesian music and dancing, Chinese singing, and Bollywood dancing, and traditional desserts brought by the guests.
You would never forget these events if you were there. But no worries if you missed them, just check out the photos.
We believe that it is equally important for us to know more about the area we are living now, so we have another theme of ‘Exploring the North East’. We brought people to a local farm to learn local agriculture and taste some farm produce. A visit to Beamish Museum was a journey back to the everyday life in old North East England.
In addition to embracing differences, I have gained invaluable experiences and friendship, inside and outside of Ustinov. The GCP has created a friendly and inclusive environment to bring various cultures together as a world-in-miniature through all these wonderful events, when we are away from home for studies. Here at Ustinov we feel right at home!
Living in Durham, you might at some point begin to believe you have a handle on the ancient wonders that now act as the backdrop to your student life. You’ve admired the city streets, been welcomed as a scholar in the cathedral, and drank a beer in the basement bar of the castle. You have been physically immersed in history, you know what to expect at this point. Then someone hands you a beautiful 3000 year-old alabaster Kohl jar, that almost seems to glow with reflected light; an Eye of Horus protective amulet, gazing up from the palm of your hand; a small Shabti burial figurine, perhaps one of the most iconic artifacts of any Ancient Egyptian historical display. What would normally be a set of objects you could only encounter through display case glass is, instead, given to you to physically hold and admire. Afterwards, you realize that your medieval University home will never cease to find new ways to provide amazing, humbling and surreal experiences.
This year the Ustinov Intercultural Forum is organizing a series of historical workshops hosted by the Oriental Museum. Attendees are given an opportunity to focus on a specific area of the museum’s vast collection. The workshops are broken up into multiple segments: the first portion is a 45-minute gallery tour, with a format recognizable to visitors of any major museum. Specific pieces from the museum’s collection are selected and described in detail by a member of staff, to provide greater context and a richer background history to the workshop visitors. This is followed by a short refreshment break, allowing attendees to discuss what they’ve seen, as well as providing some time to browse the gallery on their own. Finally, those who registered for the workshop proceed to a museum classroom for the object handling session. Space is limited for this second portion, and the number of spots available fills up quickly.
The excellent Charlotte Spink provided guidance for this initiatory session and described some of the more unique pieces within the Museum’s Ancient Egypt collection. I would encourage anyone who missed this first workshop to find some time to visit the museum on your own, and spend some time exploring both of the Egyptian galleries (your Student ID will allow you free entry). The members of staff are welcoming and will answer any questions visitors have about the displays.
Perhaps just as significant to the topic discussion were the selection of students who chose to attend. A wide range of disciplines and backgrounds were represented, which was reflected in many of the small side conversations which took place. Those familiar with Egypt (either through academic discipline or their own personal experience) helped provide greater context to the presentation, finding a receptive audience with which to share and discuss. At least one small side-bar of Anthropology students lingered in the dimly-lit glow of the object displays, considering structural design based on societal needs by comparing and contrasting to similar items found in Ancient China, Greece and Rome. Nevertheless, even those who came due to curiosity rather than academic focus found opportunities to engage in the conversation, by simply admiring the craftsmanship of the objects with their fellow attendees. At the end of the night attendees left with memories of a unique experience, many eager to find other ways to further engage with the museum’s collection.
For those who were unable to attend this first session, there will be several more opportunities in the forthcoming months to engage in similar workshops through the Ustinov Intercultural Forum. The currently planned areas of focus will include: China, the Himalayas, and Central Asia; Japan and Korea; and South Asia and South East Asia. Watch the Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ustinovgcp/ for more details as the events draw near.