Saturday, December 24, 2011

International Students Embrace American Holiday Traditions

Galiya Hafizova-Riley and Szu-Sheng Kao
pose at Rio Salado College Northern
Students at Rio Salado College are demonstrating that no matter where you are from, the holidays are a special time of year.

"I love American holidays and I love celebrating them with Americans," said Galiya Hafizova-Riley, a student studying English as a second language at Rio Salado College

Hafizova-Riley, who came to the U.S. from post-Soviet Kyrgyz Republic, said she was amazed by American holiday traditions when she first arrived.

"One of my favorite holiday experiences in the U.S. was my first time seeing holiday lights and decorations on all the houses in my neighborhood. This was a new experience for me and I enjoyed seeing it all season," she said.

Hafizova-Riley said that her all-time favorite holiday tradition in the U.S. has been New Year’s Eve. "I love that it is a chance for me to get together with friends and relatives to sing, dance and converse all night long. Although New Year’s is similar in my country, Americans definitely stay out later," she said.

Hafizova-Riley is not the only student at Rio who has had the experience of living in a new country for the holidays.

Szu-Sheng Kao, also a Rio student who studies English, came to Arizona two years ago from Taipei, Taiwan with his wife and two sons. Kao said that the last two holidays have been a unique experience.

"It is very surprising for someone to come from China and experience so many new traditions," said Kao.

According to Kao, although Taiwan and the U.S. share many of the same holiday traditions, he and his family also celebrate the Chinese New Year and the Ghost Festival, a Chinese holiday celebrated around the changing moon that honors the dead.

Kao said that he enjoys the holidays in the U.S.

"I have yet to find an American tradition that I don’t enjoy," he said. "I especially love the holiday food. Everything from turkey at Thanksgiving to Christmas ham it is all such a new experience for me and my family," said Kao.

Dafinka Karcheva-Orris, who teaches for Rio’s English Language Acquisition for Adults Program (ELAA), said she finds the food traditions of other cultures to be fun and interesting.

"Food is important in all cultures and I have enjoyed bringing Bulgarian holiday foods to America’s celebrations," said Karcheva-Orris. "Some of the Bulgarian dishes that I have prepared for Americans include: banica, which is a pastry with feta cheese and eggs, and oshav, which is dry fruit boiled in syrup. I have also prepared traditional cabbage and pork for my American friends," she said.

According to Karcheva-Orris, it is not uncommon for immigrants who come to the U.S. to leave behind traditions from their native country. "Back in Bulgaria, we used to sit around the table after dinner and sing during the holidays. Sadly, we no longer participate in this beautiful tradition," said Karcheva-Orris.

Despite the fact that her family no longer sings traditional Bulgarian songs, Karcheva-Orris said that she loves American holiday music.

"One of my favorite American traditions is holiday music. I enjoy hearing the caroling singers and listening to Christmas music on the car radio," said Karcheva-Orris.

Karcheva-Orris said that for her learning new traditions, especially American traditions, has helped her to realize how much diversity there is all over the world.

"I enjoy America’s many diverse traditions because in many ways America’s traditions represent the world population’s traditions. In my teaching profession I have many learners from around the globe who celebrate holidays in their own way. I feel especially blessed in my work with multiple cultures because I can enjoy and learn from others’ celebrations," she said.