Being+an+international+student+means+finding+your+own+way+to+celebrate+your+culture+and+festivals.+%28Photo+courtesy+Michelle+Liu%29

Being an international student means finding your own way to celebrate your culture and festivals. (Photo courtesy Michelle Liu)

Way Back Home: The three things I miss during Lunar New Year—Food, Family, Friends

How international students deal with the “holiday homesick blues” and find ways to celebrate their culture in a different country.

Hunter Long

Phalaenopsis and fireworks, red sweaters and red packets, New Year fairs and New Year decorations: Lunar New Year is undoubtedly one of the biggest highlights of the year in Chinese culture. Being away from home for the third consecutive Lunar New Year, I felt the “holiday homesick blues” a little more this year. 

COVID-19 has brought me a lot closer to my family, and especially to my cousins, so as this Lunar New Year approached, I felt more nostalgic and homesick than before.  Lunar New Year has always been one of my favorite festivals of the year because of the multitude of festivities and the delicious New Year food. Lunar New Year is about family, and I am very blessed to have a very loving family and a close-knit group of friends from home. So, not being able to spend this important holiday with them is what I consider to be a major downside of studying abroad. Before I came to Vandy, my celebration consisted of a family dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve, gatherings at various relatives and family friends’ houses and a hotpot dinner with my closest friends. Thinking back, I find those gatherings to be some of the most heart-warming and euphoric moments I remember while growing up in Hong Kong. 

“Gong hei fat choy (恭喜發財)” was the first thing I said to my family as I FaceTimed them on Feb. 12, Lunar New Year’s day. It is a Cantonese saying for greeting people in the new year and it means “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.” After greeting all of my family members that gathered at my parent’s house, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who are married made sure to wave the red packets they were giving me in front of the camera. My mom then took all of them for safekeeping so I can open them myself when I get back. 

As soon as we were done showering everyone with heartfelt new year greetings, my aunt announced, “The Lo Bak Go (turnip cake) and Wu Tao Go (Taro Cake) are ready!” On Lunar New Year’s day, my family would always make these different types of savory cakes, a Nian Gao (Chinese New Year sweet rice cake), noodles, congee and Fu Juk Tong Sui (eggs and beancurd sweet soup). Out of all these mouth-watering foods, my personal favorites are the taro cake and the sweet beancurd soup. After devouring all of the delicious food on camera, my family went over to the living room to chat and eventually started munching on the Chuen Hup (The Lunar New Year candy box). Our family’s confectionery box typically contains melon seeds, sesame cookie balls, New Year crispy triangles, nougats and Toblerone chocolate bars. Sadly, the nougats and chocolate bars are the only treats easily available in Nashville.

Although the New Year food I used to eat back home is not available here, I figured that nothing should stop me from celebrating a festival that is important to me and my culture. So, my suitemates and I decided to order Chinese food delivery from a local restaurant and have our own little New Year’s feast. Even though the food was not exactly authentic, and the atmosphere was not quite as festive, it was nonetheless a night of joy and laughter. 

As an international student, there are always moments when I wish I was back at home with my family, and the Lunar New Year is definitely one of those times. Despite it being my third year at Vandy, I still feel lonely and incomplete during Lunar New Year. To deal with these negative feelings, I find it helpful to just celebrate it with the limited resources available to me. Getting American-Chinese food, calling up my family and friends and performing the new year rituals and customs are all simple ways for me to feel connected to my culture and my home. 

So if you are also feeling the “holiday homesick blues,” I urge you to try taking small steps to celebrate the festival, or any other event, that is significant to you. I assure you that embracing the holiday spirit no matter where you are can help boost your mood. If you’re reading this and you have friends or know of someone from another culture, I suggest you let them know that you genuinely acknowledge their culture and the festivals they celebrate: join them in their celebrations or simply talk to them about it. Words cannot express how grateful and warm I felt when one of my professors said, “have a great weekend and happy Lunar New Year to whoever in this class that celebrates it” before he ended class. 

Finally, I wish every one of you who’s reading this good health and great happiness in the Year of the Ox.