International students celebrate Asian Spring Festival


Meghan Hayman

Shuyi Tang, ’17, Wenjie Lin, ’17, and Xiaoyu Zhu, ’18, make Chinese rice balls filled with sesame, orange skin or red bean flavoring. The balls were boiled and then served with sugar while other performances continued in the Schultz Banquet Hall on Feb. 19.

The last time Anna Gao, ’18, celebrated Chinese New Year with her family and friends was three years ago 7,875 miles away in Guangzhou, China.

This time of year she misses those people the most as she remembers the fireworks, decorations and special New Year’s Day feast that would signal the transition to the new year at home.

This year on Gao celebrated the new year, the most important Chinese cultural event, in Schultz Banquet Hall among other international students on Feb. 19. The students worked to integrate the cultures they were raised in with the American culture they now live in.

“It is a very big event in China because it is a chance for everybody in the family, no matter how far you are, it is a chance to gather around the dinner table and talk,” said Gao. “Also for the kids, we get money from the elders and people make a lot of good food for the Spring Festival.”

While this festival is considered to be the most important holiday in China, similar festivals occur in other Eastern Asian countries including Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The Asian Spring Festival is traditionally centered around the lunar-solar Chinese calendar and is often spent celebrated with food, appreciation for one’s ancestors and in the company of family.

Yuchun Huang, ’18, is a Chinese Teaching Assistant and is also helping to organize and sponsor the event.

“Because it’s time to introduce Chinese culture with this big event, and I am also happy that I have a lot of friends and students who are interested in Chinese Spring Festival,” Huang said.

According to Huang, there were many intricate parts that contributed to Allegheny’s celebration of Chinese New Year. Students Kento Hashimoto, ’16, from Japan, Ji-Hee Hong, ’16, from Korea and My H. Dang, ’18, from Vietnam, made presentations to the audience on how their countries celebrate the New Year.

Brazilian students led by Iaryn Aguiar, ’18,  performed a traditional dance. Some Chinese students also performed traditional Chinese songs that welcomed in the new year.

The students involved in the event worked to encourage more audience participation than in previous years. Audience members were taught to make a traditional Spring Festival dessert, the rice ball.

“A girl is going to teach people how to make the rice ball in China and then people are going to make them themselves. After they finish, we will take it to the kitchen at the back of Schultz Hall to cook them and then we will have dessert,” Gao said.

“I also bought some cultural gifts, including Chinese fans, chopsticks, and ancient Chinese coins,” Huang said.

“In the festival we are going to have a little game, so the winners could have these prizes. And also for audience, we will have a lucky lottery, so the audience also has a chance to have these. They will be put in red envelopes. A surprise.”

Yilin Zhu, ’17, performed a traditional Chinese dance from 1000 years ago to a song that is about a love story. She said that she feels the bond between herself and her ancestors through performing traditional Chinese dance.

“I feel connected to tradition. I can feel the movement and the emotion,” Zhu said. “It is an important festival in China. People go home to their families, it is like Christmas in America.”

She continued to say that while she is excited to be part of the on-campus celebration, she does not feel that it is enough to convey the spirit of what Chinese New Year actually means to Chinese students.

She mentions that unlike American students who go home for Christmas, an important holiday for many, Chinese students do not have the privilege to spend this important time meant for community and joy with their families.

“We don’t have any vacation for this. This is the Asian International students’ biggest time to miss home,” Zhu said.

Gao is hosting the event while also participating in the event by playing the bamboo flute with Celina Deng, ’18, who is playing the zither.

“Chinese New Year is a pretty big thing to me… It is like my birthday, it has to happen,” Gao said.

Even so, Gao expressed that Chinese New Year is about being with family and friends.

“Being with who you love will make you happy no matter what you do,” Gao said.

She also says that the food is the biggest part of the event and that she is looking forward to the food because for the first time, the audience will be invited to take part in the cooking process of traditional rice balls.

Walter Stover, ’17, the cohost of the event, was excited to participate in his second Spring Festival at Allegheny.

“It’s always a lot of fun and the food is always good, and everyone has a good time,” Stover said.  “And I think it’s a great way to celebrate the New Year, especially if you have a strong interest in Chinese culture.”