To Vietnamese VinUnians, Tet means more than just a national holiday. It is a break from all the assignments, teamwork, and exams; a reset button after a year packed with events and people. But to international students, Tet is a whole new experience, yet might not be as celebratory as it is supposed to be.
It was two more days before Tet when I texted Patience, a freshman at College of Health Sciences, to ask how she felt about Tet.
“My first new year experience here in Vietnam was more of an educative one as I was able to learn the significance of the celebration, which includes meeting with your loved ones, sharing gifts, and exchanging well wishes,” said Patience, who came all the way from Nigeria to study at VinUni.
Like all VinUni students, Patience and her friends managed to travel to the city center, where she was amazed by streets packed with beautifully dressed people and buildings adorned with festive decorations. I was also amazed at how much she knew about Tet, especially the famous saying “The 1st day of the Lunar New Yearis for fathers, the 2nd day is for mothers and the 3rd day is for teachers.” (Despite the traditional custom, to be honest, for years, my family had completely messed up the rule: we sometimes visited our mother’s side first before traveling to our father's)
It was also great to hear that she had had her first try of bánh chưng (a traditional Vietnamese savory dish often served at Tet) and lì xì (lucky money). However, it seems that even the eye-opening experience of Tet could not help alleviate the boredom of an empty dorm room. Since all of her Vietnamese roommates had left for home and would not return until next week, Patience owned up to the loneliness, despite having received New Year wishes from her friends.
Another friend I interacted with chose to react to an empty school rather interestingly. Strix, another freshman from CECS, decided to “relax and self-indulge the entire time [he is] here,” which I guess, is not much different from what Vietnamese students did at home.
Born and raised in Vietnam, Strix was technically not an international student. However, after spending most of his teenage years in Laos, this year was the first time he celebrated New Year in Northern Vietnam.
Strix told me about his experience of Tet in the South back when he was small with his family having a lot of fun playing the game lô tô (lotto), a traditional gamble that originated from “bingo." Growing up in Hue, I had never tried lô tô before, but come to think of it, if you can master lô tô, you can handle any multiple-choice question.
Considering the diverse backgrounds of VinUni students, I wish our school could organize more cultural events, in which students show how they celebrate different things, including New Year, in their places of birth, thus we, as Vietnamese, can also learn to appreciate others' traditional customs. Maybe we can all play lô tô or have traditional Nigerian dishes together!
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