A good feature story is often born out of a question.
In the case of our cover story this month, it was “What do international students do during the winter break?”
In the beginning, I had my theories. I visualized what it would be like to be far from home (6,000 miles or so) during a holiday season without my family. I imagined loneliness and longing and boredom. I assumed a feeling of displacement and nostalgia.
In some cases, I was on track. But for the most part, this article took me places I didn’t expect to go.
My America-centric mindset had not allowed me to anticipate that these students were not like any students I’d ever met before.
First of all, to leave your home to study in a far-off land – to willingly move to a whole new culture where language, traditions, food and celebrations are foreign and bewildering – surely must require a special predisposition for adventure, an overriding passion for discovery.
And because most have had to come to terms with being away from their families for long stretches, the winter break in many ways is just another exciting window of opportunity.
This time of year, Americans are wholly consumed with the season we generically refer to as “The Holidays.” But for the students I met over the past month, this time of year is only partly about eggnog and tinsel. It is more about soaking up every cultural experience they can, whether it’s a traditional Thanksgiving celebration in Ohio with a roommate, backpacking across the Middle East or ringing in the new year on a beach in Miami.
After meeting these students, I discovered that the American holidays are not the only time of glorious feasting in the world. As each student told their story, a world opened up to me that was far bigger than my own – a world of shimmering saris, melodic prayers in unknown languages, fragrant cardamom and saffron, glowing handmade lanterns and plates of sweet brandied rice prawns.
A good story often begins with a question. But in the discovery process of writing this article, I came away with something better than answers. I came away with even more questions.
What would it be like to actually join the festive throngs in the Calcutta streets? To observe the Eid prayer in Saudi Arabia? To go to Shanghai for a traditional Chinese New Year feast? To taste bak kwa and olive vegetable in Singapore? To drink raki in Cyprus? To dance the night away in Cameroon?
My mind swoons at the thought of it all.
What a rich cultural resource Vanderbilt’s nearly 1,200 international students are. After a conversation with any one of them, you will likely discover that our world is much bigger, much more beautiful and more fascinating and diverse than you realized.
And if you are like me, as you celebrate this season with gusto, you will dream of a new year filled with the possibility of adventures far greater than you ever imagined.
Editor in Chief, Vanderbilt View