By Thao Nguyen
The first time one student attended an ISA meeting, she apologized for being late – Matteo Lai, the president of the association, told her that it was no problem, he is Italian. Everyone laughed and that set the mood for a chatty meetup than a meeting, even though they still managed to diligently work through the agenda, brainstorming ideas for upcoming events.
That’s the sort of atmosphere that the International Students Association (ISA) wants to create. Rather than having an exec that meets exclusively every week to organise events, the association invites anyone who’s interested to come along to any meeting, often occurring at the DSU each Monday night, and pitch in.
Pitch in to what, exactly? Well, this year, the ISA wants to celebrate Durham University’s diversity. They have been working hard to put on events that show and appreciate different cultures throughout the year. During Michaelmas term, they organised a cosy Thanksgiving dinner at the Kingsgate bar, at the end of which Josephine Butler’s Folk Band blasted American Pie as all sang along. In February, they put on two events – one was a Lunar New Year’s celebration, garnished with traditional dancing by DurAnce and palm reading, at the Castle’s Great Hall. The other was a night of live music, salsa dance, and European cuisine at the DSU in the spirit of the Mardi Gras. “We aim to have at least one event for each continent this academic year,” Matteo told me.
We aim to have at least one event for each continent this academic year
With almost a third of our student population coming from abroad, the variety of culture at the university does not seem to be explored and appreciated enough. Without this diversity, today’s Durham would not be; to think that this historic city would have so many Italian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, etc. restaurants without its diverse student body is rather strange. More importantly, such intermingling of cultures and perspectives is something that we perhaps will only get to experience in our university years, although we may not always realise that.
Matteo, a postgraduate in his fourth year at Durham University, had started at Josephine Butler college, where he also invited students to shape their own cultural experience there. He said that he and this year’s Durham ISA exec wanted to expand this to all international students at the university, many of whom may be struggling to adapt to a whole other language and society. Such students can come, get to know the exec and others who have gone through or are going through the same thing, and find some reassurance and support. What’s more, a great way to form new friendship is the experience of “shaping events and campaigns”, through which the ISA hopes to promote an international experience at Durham University, where cultures are celebrated and different cuisines and traditions are shared.
Before the term ends and we all go into Summative study mode, the ISA is also planning an International Week between 9 – 15 March 2020, when every night will feature a different continent. Alongside that is a ‘Humans of the Globe’ series on social media. Becoming a part of this, whether you’re a Home student or you’re representing a national society at Durham, is easy – all you need to do join the ISA group on Facebook, drop them a message or come to their weekly meetings at 8pm on Monday, in Seminar Room 1 at the DSU.
Photograph by Mark Norton