International students in Capital Region planning holiday festivities

Universities and organizations hold communal events
Marzieh Dehghan Chaleshtori.
Marzieh Dehghan Chaleshtori.

As the holidays approach, international students who are often hundreds of miles away from home are planning their own holiday festivities.

Various organizations, including college campuses, have stepped up to the plate to provide various holiday festivities for students who were born all over the world, but have come together in the United States for school.

At the University at Albany, throughout the months of November and December, there are communal Thanksgiving events hosted as well as other winter holiday celebrations held across campus. 

Each year, the university hosts a Thanksgiving celebration for international students a few days before the actual holiday itself during which traditional American Thanksgiving dishes, like turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce is served. For many students, that celebration is their first experience with a major American holiday.

Over the years though, the offerings have expanded and students have begun to bring slices of their home countries to campus.

Marzieh Dehghan Chaleshtori, a fourth year doctorate student at SUNY Albany from Iran, will be sticking around the city throughout the holidays.

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Chaleshtori, who came to the United States for school, will be staying at least until she receives her degree, and has spent her holidays away from home for the last few years.

Being away for the holidays, she said, is not the ideal place to be.

“When it becomes a holiday and everyone goes home and no one is at the university, it’s not fun. You feel sad and kind of alone.”

To make up for the solitary experience, Chaleshtori has typically buried herself in work. As she has moved through her program at school, she said that’s become easier and easier to do as the work has become more and more intense.

“I became super busy working on research projects,” she said. “But I try to keep myself busy and work on the things that I need to finish.”

She’s also preparing to teach a class for the upcoming semester.

“I have a lot of things on my plate that I need to work on,”she said.

But, Chaleshtori, who is the president of the Iranian Student Association, still wanted to give her peers a chance to celebrate. So this year she took matters into her own hands.

On Dec. 15, on campus, the Iranian Student Association will hold a dinner and festival to celebrate Yalda. Yalda is a winter solstice celebration, Chaleshtori explained, always held on the longest and darkest night of the year.

“It’s kind of a traditional holiday for us,” she said.

During Yalda, she said, participants often eat watermelon which, though it is a summer fruit, is eaten on the winter holiday to usher in a prosperous summer for Iranians. The night will also feature a live comedy routine from Kevan Moezz, or K-von, a famous half-Persian comedian.

This is the first time that a Yalda festival has been held at the university. Chaleshtori said she would not have been able to put it together though, without help from Michael Elliot, director of the school’s International Student and Scholar Services and Fardin Sanai, vice president for University Advancement
and executive director of The University at Albany Foundation

“I’m super excited for that,” she said. “It’s going to be a good finish for the end of the semester.

Benitha Muyizere, an international student from Rwanda, is currently a junior majoring in Biology at UAlbany with a minor in business. She is also on the on the pre-medical track.

Muyizere is also no stranger to being on campus as it empties out during the holidays, and spending that time away from her family back home. This year though, she and her family will be traveling to Morocco for the holiday season.

But there are numerous facets of the American holiday season she has come to know and enjoy during her time here. The endless mesmerizing lights in the streets, displays in shopping malls and seeing people decorate their homes are some of her favorite parts of the season.

“Based on my previous experience, spending holidays in United States is really fun,” she said. Sometimes, her United States holidays have differed from her holidays at home just based on the number of people around her. At home, in Rwanda, Muyizere said she might celebrate with “hundreds of friends or family members.” 

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Here though, it’s usually just her, or her and her parents and sibling.

“What I usually look forward to when I spend holiday seasons in the United States is eating good delicious food and chocolates, spending four days in a hotel as combined celebration of mother’s birthday,
New Year’s Eve and the new year. My family usually goes out to a New Year’s Eve party, watches the fireworks and pops champagne, and then me my brother and I go to second party with our friends while my mom and her friends stay behind chatting or sleeping,” she said.

Ultimately though, even if she’ll miss the Christmas lights this year in the United States, Muyizere is looking forward to her trip to Morocco.

“I have a lot plans for the new country. My family and I have scheduled tours in different cities in Morocco, and we will do almost similar things that we do for the New Year when we are in the United States, but for Christmas it’s going to be different because Morocco is an Islamic country and they don’t celebrate Christmas that much. So, we plan on celebrating at home and we have more family members who will be coming to spend holiday season with us,” she said.

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