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Holiday celebrations kick off International Education Week at Wayne State

November 13, 2012

International Education Week kicked off Monday with a poster exhibition on global holidays organized by the English Language Institute (ELI), Wayne State University’s intensive English language program. In a crowded room at the WSU Student Center, ELI students passed out national delicacies, using the aromatic food and drink to entice visitors to learn more about their cultures.

Sultan Alkhaledi of Kuwait doled out dates and cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, both staples of Middle Eastern hospitality, as he described festivities used to celebrate Feb. 25 and Feb. 26, the days that commemorate Kuwait’s independence from Britain in 1961 and Iraq’s withdrawal of forces from Kuwait in 1991. Fireworks, multinational music concerts and copious spray foam are all commonplace, Alkhaledi said, adding that musicians from Kuwait and Iraq often share a stage “because we understand that the people of Iraq and Kuwait had nothing to do with what happened. It was a governmental issue.”

Across the room, Saudi Arabian students dished up chickpeas, sesame cake, pistachio pastries and other delights as they described Eid Al-adha, one of two feast festivals celebrated annually by Muslims worldwide. Translated as “the Festival of Sacrifice,” the feast honors the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, and God’s decision to spare the son. According to ELI student Kamal Basrawi, Muslims commemorate the feast, which is celebrated on the 10th day of the Islamic calendar’s last month, by bringing food to neighbors and to the poor.

New Year celebrations proved to be popular across cultures. Wei Da, who came to Wayne State from China to study biology, invited passersby to eat savory dumplings with soy sauce as she described the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The Chinese reunite with their families for a large meal on the eve of the holiday, and rejoice the following morning with firecrackers. Da said children are given gifts of money for the Chinese New Year, which will fall on Feb. 10, 2013 and herald the Year of the Snake.

Nearby, Jiwoong Kim of South Korea ladled out tteokguk – rice cake soup – as he talked about Seollal, or the Korean New Year. Also celebrated on Feb. 10, as dictated by the lunar calendar, Seollal is an opportunity for Koreans to honor their ancestors by laying out a feast of traditional foods for their spirits to enjoy. After this tradition is observed, Koreans enjoy the meal and play yunnori, a traditional board game. In a ritual called sebae, children wish their elders prosperity and are rewarded with gifts of money. Children also play jegichagi, a game similar to hackysack in which a small object is wrapped in paper and kicked about to keep it aloft.

Rounding out the presenters was Majeed Nader of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, who described his country’s New Year, Eid Nowruz. Celebrated each year in late March, Eid Nowruz marks the beginning of spring, a season of fine weather during which the Kurds make weekend outings to the mountains for picnics. Nader, who is studying engineering, said Kurds celebrate throughout their cities with vibrant clothing, enormous bonfires symbolizing ancient victories, and fireworks.

According to Ellen Barrett, ELI student services coordinator, the holiday festival was held in a prominent campus location to foster interaction between the institute’s foreign students and their American counterparts.

“It’s easy for ELI students never to leave Manoogian,” Barrett said of the WSU building that houses the institute, “and it would be easy to have this event in Manoogian. “But we wanted students in the center to pop in and interact with our ELI students so that they’re not isolated.”

Barrett encouraged the American students who stopped by to become “conversation partners” – volunteers who meet with ELI students on a regular basis to help them practice English. Individuals wishing to volunteer can contact Barrett at eh1099@wayne.edu.

International Education Week continues through Friday, Nov. 16. For a schedule of events, visit www.internationalweek.wayne.edu.

 
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