Durham University Mixed Society is a brand-new society, created with the intention of providing a “home away from home” for those who feel as if they don’t fit within one specific culture. Interview Editor, Claudia Jacob, speaks to the Presidents, Hana Fujii Bennet and Kiana Pollard, and the Vice President, Nicole Woo, about the ways that being a “Third Culture Kid” has influenced their upbringing and the ways that they’re trying to make Durham University a more inclusive place for the underrepresented.
Hana explains that she attended an Anglo-Japanese social when she first started at Durham, but felt like she didn’t completely fit in. She was surprised that there wasn’t a society for those who feel as if they don’t fit into any cultural category, whether due to their transnational and transcultural upbringing or their mixed race. She reflects on how a society member expressed their gratitude for a society which represents students of bi racial backgrounds, since they personally didn’t join the “Africa/Black societies” as they didn’t feel “black enough”. Hana hopes this society will be a place where all students of mixed race and multicultural backgrounds can feel welcomed and accepted, stressing that their society is by no means “exclusive to people of colour”.
Kiana elaborates “in International Freshers’ Week, there were a lot of Western students and it was hard to meet people with similar experiences to mine. There was some sort of disconnect because we didn’t have the cultural connections”. Like Hana, Nicole attended an international social with the Hong Kong society, but didn’t completely feel at home: “a lot of them had attended local school whereas I went to an international school and I think there’s a really big difference there”. She adds ‘‘I quite like the things that the ISA [International Students Association] does, it’s just I find it quite hard to relate to a lot of the people there”.
Nicole explains that although all three of them had quite a Western upbringing, “the UK specifically has its own culture that I wasn’t used to”, adding that “it was interesting explaining my culture to people, but after a while that gets a bit exhausting”. Kiana explains that “being culturally very Japanese I struggle to fit into Western cultures, despite looking and speaking the part”. Hana’s culturally diverse background hasn’t always been something she’s accepted: “it’s only recently that I’ve started to appreciate how privileged I’ve been in my upbringing, but whilst I was growing up (I was born in Pakistan and grew up in Sudan, Jamaica and Fiji etc.), it was difficult adapting every couple of years, especially when I was at that developmental stage, desperate to fit in”.
I was interested to learn more about the question of language. Nicole explains “my parents were born and raised in Hong Kong and went to a local school where every thing was taught in Chinese, so they taught me Cantonese first. I started learning English in kindergarten and so naturally my English got a lot better than my Chinese-English was the common language among my friends. Whenever I go back home, I try to speak to my parents in Cantonese but there’s an element of guilt of not being able to speak your mother tongue”. Hana agrees, admitting that “it’s just another thing that sets you apart from others.”
In terms of the impact of Covid-19 on international students, Kiana explains that “it’s really hard to stay in contact with family and friends; the time differences are huge and sometimes it can be quite lonely in itself to be a multicultural person and then on top of that we have this pandemic, so you may feel more isolated”. Nicole adds “I think a lot of us bond over food…we live to eat instead of eating to live, so not being able to meet up at a restaurant has been rather tragic.” The group was delighted to be joined by students who are living across the world for their first social, even though for some it was the middle of the night. Hana feels that “lots of people hadn’t realised that there were other people like this in Durham”.
At this difficult time for so many, it seems as though Mixed Society has been able to create a community in the purest sense of the word, offering a platform which celebrates inter-cultural identity when we need it most.
Illustration by Adeline Zhao