Arts

Giving international students a second home

Photo: Marta Kierkus

When many students want to head home for a weekend, they can take the bus or a train. Others have a lot farther to go.

While the Chinese New Year took place over the University of Ottawa’s reading week, a group on campus arranged its own party for students who couldn’t celebrate it with their families.

“Here is not my hometown,” says David Dai, a third-year history student from China. “The first time I came here I felt lonely. The very first semester I had no Chinese friends.”

Momo Zhang, a second-year finance student, says she had trouble getting used to the new setting when she first came to the U of O because she didn’t know what was acceptable Canadian behaviour.

“This was first time we had come here and we found it difficult to fit in,” says Zhang. “We felt like outsiders.”

Zhang and Dai are two members of the University of Ottawa Chinese Students’ Association (UOCSA). The group provides university orientation and holds monthly meetings so students can meet each other and find help adjusting to life in Canada.

The group will host its first-ever lantern festival dinner on March 7. Typically the lantern festival falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which symbolizes reunion. It’s considered an important festival as it marks the end of the Chinese New Year. Traditionally, the festival focuses on lantern games, but instead UOCSA will be entertaining guests with special food and musical entertainment.

The “lantern” is a Chinese translation for a type of food made from apricot and rice dumpling. More than 300 expected guests will be served snacks from various Chinese provinces—such as pressed salted duck, a Nanjing delicacy—so students can spend a Chinese evening at the National Gallery of Canada.

“We want to make students feel like they’re at home,” says Zhang.

The group held a Chinese New Year celebration in 2013 and 2014, the latter of which drew more than 400 guests—including councillors from the Chinese embassy and local Chinese community media—to the Shaw Centre for a night of traditional musical and artistic performances.

Time restraints meant there was no Chinese New Year party this year, but Dai says they knew students would be feeling homesick, so they decided to hold the lantern festival instead. The UOCSA also plans to bring back the celebrations in 2016.

Zhang says events like these offer a sense of unity for students who can bond and connect as they share common ground learning about Canada during their studies.