Celebrating the Lunar New Year at Augustana


“Hey, will you come back to Vietnam on Lunar New Year?”

I have heard this kind of question several times. Very often, my automatic response is: “Sorry, my classes already started.” Then why I didn’t go back home for Christmas break? I figured I had just been in Canada for a while and it would not be that bad to stay away from home for a little while longer.

For the most part, I am content with my choice. If I had gone home during the break, I would have missed the chance of staying with my lovely Filipino friend and her family. But as it gets closer to Lunar New Year, I cannot prevent myself from being a little jealous of my Vietnamese friends as they are preparing for what is the biggest festival in many Asian cultures. Luckily for me, my kind senior year friend informed me of volunteer position for the I-Week.

My Vietnamese friend, a Chinese girl and I decided to make a combined table called Lunar New Year as Vietnam shares many cultural similarities with China. We sat down together to figure out what activities we do during Lunar New Year and how we could present those ideas on the poster. We then agreed that the two edge sides would have each country’s traditions while the middle one had pictures of the most common things in both cultures, such as family reunion. As we prepared sticky notes for people to write “Happy New Year” in their own languages and stick on the poster, we also put 20 dollars in some of the lucky-money bags to make the game more interesting.


Writer Hien Nguyen standing in front of the dragon head in the Augustana Bookstore. Photo credit: Sarah Laflamme

The I-Week Monday is one of the most memorable days of my journey at Augustana. The coincidence of having I-Week on the same day with Lunar New Year made it more special. I felt a little anxious putting on “áo dài”, a traditional Vietnamese dress, yet the excitement of explaining Asian cultures to foreigners outweighed it. My heart beat fast when people asked me about our custom of releasing fishes, the meaning of the calligraphy that I wrote on the poster or the Dragon head in the bookstore. The sad folk story behind fish-releasing activity as transportation for three Kitchen Gods on their way to heaven in my description was rather funny and messed up than heartbreaking. The point is to portray your culture, not how you tell the story, isn’t it?

When thinking about cultures, we tend to value the differences. What I find more interesting, are the similar aspects within cultural stories. What exactly are those similarities? I can neither find a branch of apricot blossom in this minus-degree temperature nor have more Vietnamese dishes. However, most people here have open eyes. Open eyes to see, to learn, and to respect. Knowing the differences emphasizes the similarities we share as a community. I still remember my professor’s questions about why we must learn English if it is a language of force and colonization. Learning something is perceiving the positive side, and knowing the differences is to shift our mindset to think about what we can build together.

At the end of the day, I am still nostalgic thinking about what I do every single new year back home. I didn’t spend ten hours waiting for Chung cake, visiting temples on the first day of the year, or sharing meals with my family. However, I am glad to have many good friends by my side who broaden my mind and teach me much more things than I can find inside the textbooks. And guess how touching it was when in the first morning of Lunar New Year, a lady knocked on my door, smiling and wishing me in my mother language:

“Chúc mừng năm mới.”


Get Involved with Your International Community at Augustana During I-Week


Being an International student, I have always felt welcomed by Augustana’s community. University life is not just about studying but socializing and trying out new roles that I have never thought I could have back home in Vietnam. Integration matters, especially in this fast-changing world, yet it is not assimilation. Everyone comes from different places in the world and have different stories to tell and participating  in International Week, which starts on Feb. 4, lets us share our unique cultural stories.

What is I-Week?

Let’s first get an idea about what  I-Week is. International Week (or I-Week) is a signature event of the University of Alberta. Established in 1986, I-Week strives to create a place for everybody to “hear each other, see from new perspectives, and find solutions together”. It gives students the chance not only to represent their regions and explore cultural diversities but also to address ongoing issues which are happening around the world.

A meaningful event

This year, I-Week will be in the first week of February with the theme of education. Education is not a new topic, yet there is still much to be discussed. While many of us can afford higher education, there are many children out there lacking educational support. Therefore, our campus is trying to donate the money gained during I-Week to the Sahakarini association- a charity that provides funding for projects that assist education and community development for children in countries such as India, Zimbabwe, and Brazil.

Busy and funny

Yes, why not? There are many activities happening  during the week. Starting Monday, Feb. 4, an EXPO will run from 12 – 4 p.m. and it will be a bombshell! If you think this is just an exaggeration, come to the Forum first and check it out. This year, 24 tables will be set up by students from different countries. We have representatives from Asia (such as Korea and Pakistan) and Africa (Ghana), as well as Indigenous students and language clubs, that will bring a new atmosphere to this annual event.

Soup supper and flag raising will take place on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Professor Feisal Kirumira will talk about Black History Month from 1 – 2 p.m. If you want to chill a bit, consider watching “The Pathfinder” with the Nordic Club on the same day from 6 – 9 p.m. On Friday, you may want to try some delectable desserts sold at the bookstore from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Which will be followed by an award ceremony for the Tournament of Nations. The week will then close with a Board Game Night.

A tip: Don’t forget to check the cafeteria menu! You may even find dishes from your home country appear unexpectedly.  A familiar flavour from your continent can brighten your day! Take this one-of-a-kind chance so your stomach won’t blame you for treating it badly later.

We need your involvement

A lot of my friends love pizza. By coming to the I-Week and voting for a continent, country, or region that you are interested in, you will give them a chance to win the Tournament of Nations challenge. Last but not least, wear some fancy garments, take five photos, and try your luck in winning $50 on a photo contest. See you next week!