Easter: An Intercultural Medley of a Holiday

18 Apr

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Though Easter is commonly associated in the United States as a secular holiday of decorated eggs and chocolate rabbits, its meaning and significance around the world greatly vary. This day of celebration has been rooted in a variety of human cultures as early as the second century; it is thought to be descended from an ancient pagan festival which celebrated the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of fertility and spring, Eostre. Legend has it that the Goddess Eostre consorted with a hare and some scholars believe this fable serves as history’s first reference to rabbits during this springtime holiday. 

Many years later Easter is now well known for representing Christianity’s most important holiday, commemorating Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. In a forty day period before Easter Sunday named “Lent,” Christians will sacrifice something in honor of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for his people. In Judaism, the celebration of Passover occurs around the same time of year as Easter.  During this time, Jews gather to pay homage to the Israelites’ flight from slavery in Egypt.  The highlight of Passover is the Seder, observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast.  Although eggs are a part of the traditional Seder feast, their significance is quite different from the Easter egg.

Eggs became a world-wide Easter tradition largely due to the Christian church banning certain foods (such as eggs) during Lent, the 40 day religious season of sacrifice which precedes Easter Sunday. After going over a month without eating eggs it became a special treat to enjoy them on Easter. This excitement for eggs fed one of Easter’s oldest and most extravagant traditions, Easter egg decorating. Though at first eggs were only decorated by dye, Russian Royalty and high society of the 19th century took this activity to the next level and crafted jewel-encrusted eggs as Easter gifts!

Over the years separate cultures have added their own twist onto this diverse holiday, presenting several interesting differences in their respective Easter traditions. For example in Switzerland the Easter bunny is replaced with a Cuckoo who flies around and delivers eggs, while in varying parts of Germany it is thought that a fox, rooster or stork would do the job.

Nowadays many celebrate Easter simply for the fun of it. With only Halloween having greater candy sales, every Easter over 90 million chocolate bunnies and 16 billion jellybeans are consumed all over the world. From its ancient religious implications to its popular customs, Easter has become one of the world’s most widely celebrated holidays!

Happy Easter! – OIA Bloggers 

That time of year: GALA 2014

16 Apr

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GALA! Since its birth 12 years ago, every Clarkie has probably attended at least one International Gala during their four years at Clark. Gala, International Students Association’s flagship event, is probably the most-awaited event for many internationals at Clark. Halfway through February, choreographers start registering their countries and all of March just seems like a blur of rehearsals and preparations for both performers and ISA.

Gala just seems to get bigger and better each year and Gala 2014 was no exception! With over 30 countries representing themselves through dance, music and glamorous native costumes, Gala 2014 ended with a blast!

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Japan, last year’s ending performance, kicked off the show this year while India closed the first half with its amazing Bhangra! With classical-fusion from Bangladesh, tango from Argentina, Persian influenced dances by Iran and an acapella performance by our very own Clark Bars the show was ended by the fabulous dance by Sri Lanka! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_bXUac3k3E

The theme for Gala 2014 was ‘share the moment’ and the show truly left some very beautiful moments that are now embedded in social media for as long as we have facebook and instagram. Dulara De Alwis’, who was one of the hosts, “first let me take a selfie” dialogue was probably one of the many highlights of the night.

Each year ISA, Gala volunteers and over three hundred performers get together and try to bring-to-life and celebrate Clark’s diversity. All the hard work devoted to make these performances absolutely perfect, pays off when you are on stage and you can hear applause take over the Kneller during and after each performance! 

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When I was asked to write about this year’s Gala, I was excited and yet out of words. How does one accurately describe something that is so empowering, so full of emotions and excitement? Gala for me isn’t just a three hour long show. It’s the pumped up aura surrounding Clark three weeks before Gala, the anxious hell week, that overwhelming minute filled with pride when you carry your flag across the stage at the end of the show! Gala for me, whether I am performing or not, is an amalgam of feelings. An expectation of the beautiful memories I will make that will stay with me for years to come. Gala 2014 met all those expectations and more, making people want to come back for more next year. And you know what? It just keeps getting better each year!

-Suaida Firoze 

Great Minds: Leonardo da Vinci

15 Apr

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This April 15th marks Leonardo Da Vinci’s 562nd birthday. This well-known jack of all trades is still to this day characterized as one of the humanity’s greatest geniuses in regard to his diverse work in the arts and sciences. Leonardo is well known for his artwork having created timeless treasures such as the Mona Lisa and Madonna of the Rocks – however he was also a well accomplished architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, writer, and inventor (too name only a few of his studies). Here are a couple of fun facts about this great man you might not have known about:

  • Leonardo Da Vinci was a vegetarian due to his love of animals! This was very unusual in the fifteenth century.
  • Leonardo would wear pink in order to make his complexion look fresh.
  • The majority of Leonardo’s work was either unfinished or destroyed- he was a very critical man.
  • Leo was an illegitimate son of Florentine notary and peasant- for this reason he never received a formal education. 
  • Leonardo never married or had children.
  • Da Vinci was fascinated with flight as evidenced by his many aerial inventions. He would often catch birds simply for the enjoyment of releasing them and watching them fly away.

We have come a long way since the Renaissance, but it is often argued that this period of time propelled humanity into its modern-technical age. Now, over 500 years later, I wonder when our next renaissance will ensue, who our next Leonardo will be, or if anyone will ever again make a mark on this world as he once did.  

Once In a Lifetime: Advocacy Day

12 Apr

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About a month ago I got an email informing that I had been selected to attended the Advocacy Day conference, organized by NAFSA in Washington D.C. I couldn’t wait to go the conference, advocating for the laws and things I believe in.

The conference was held from March 18-19 in the Doubletree Hotel in Washington D.C. with over 200 attendees representing 38 states. The Massachusetts contingent was the largest contingent present.

The first day of the conference concentrated mainly on skill building, how to advocate for your cause when you are in the presence of some the most powerful people in the American Politics or in any country in general. There were various speakers that paid attention to different aspects of advocating -from introductions to how to keep the conversation going.

A lot of emphasis was put on how to build a connection with the person you are talking to and are trying to convince for your cause. We had the opportunity of meeting staff member from other universities and students from all over the United States. There weren’t a lot of students present but I was informed that the conference has seen a steady rise in the number of student attendees over the years.

On our first day in Washington D.C. we were privileged enough to receive a private tour of The Capitol from a staff member from a New Hampshire congresswoman. It was an amazing first time experience; it was astonishing to see the amount of history attached to a building.

For me personally, the second day was one of the best experiences I have had. The Massachusetts contingent had the opportunity of meeting with highest staff members of the two Massachusetts senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. We talked about the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act and the new immigration bill. We got to hear both sides of the story, Democratic and Republican. We also went to Congressman Jim McGovern’s office as a small group and had a great productive conversation with his staff member. Most officials were unavailable as it was recess time.

This was an amazing opportunity to experience and interact with people who have been working in this field for so long and have so much to share. We were a contingent of 4 undergraduate students; Eliana Hadjeandreou, Danielle Strandson and Oscar Zapata. Mariana Davila, who is a fifth year student currently living in D.C. joined us for the conference. The great Clark staff members, Patricia Doherty and Constance Whitehead-Hanks, who played a key in making this trip so successful, also accompanied us. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity; the city, the people, and the power. Everything about this trip was memorable; hopefully I will have the opportunity to go on a trip like this in the near future.

- Radhika Sharma

The Advocacy Day group will be presenting on the experience on Tuesday, April 15 at 4:00 PM  – Second Floor Dana Commons – Clark University

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Institutionalized Racism Unnoticed

8 Apr

The world of fashion and beauty is incredibly tough and biased – cutthroat and highly opinionated. Models seem to conform to a strict set of guidelines that are set by the industry; rarely do outsiders make it big. From their often-unrealistic notions of what the ideal body type is, it is not difficult to see that the industry is in serious need of expanding their vision.

Roughly 20% of models are women of color. For this, designers should be also held accountable, as they choose who models their shows. According to Annie Walshaw, a model booker, designers have a certain ‘look’ in mind when they hire models. The implications of this are disconcerting: white models are considered dainty and pretty, whilst darker models are exotic and ‘edgy’ (only able to pull of certain looks – most likely tribal). It seems hard to believe that this still occurs today.

Instead of highlighting these issues, however, the media, and Hollywood, only seem to play into the beauty industry’s hands. Very rarely do we even see a leading lady of color.

That is why when Lupita Nyong’o – though not playing a leading lady – emerged, many were overjoyed to find that the media immediately fell in love with the girl-who-seems-to-do-no-wrong. An amazing actress (her performance in 12 years a Slave proving it), smart, and statuesque, it’s no mystery why they did. Lupita Nyong’o, a grounded and elegant lady, who is able to pull off any designer’s look, certainly has a wonderful way with words.

The most impressing thing about her – more so than her Oscar – has to be her acceptance speech for Best Breakthrough Performance at the Essence Magazine awards. Instead of launching into a typical acceptance speech, she spoke about her experience with beauty, being dark-skinned, in response to a letter she received from a young girl.

The beauty industry is not accommodating to those of a darker skin tone, with many companies encouraging the idea that ‘lighter is better’. Few makeup and skin companies even have a decent selection of products for dark skin. Instead, they advertise harmful skin-bleaching products. This in itself is refined racism; together with the media, they collectively brainwash people into thinking that they need to look a certain way – that it’s the only way to be beautiful and appreciated.

However, her message was an even deeper one, one that undermines a lot of what the beauty industry has to say:

“What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul… And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”

People come in all colors and sizes, and the beauty sector needs to wake up and realize that they need to become representative. Color is not ugly, but rather, it is marvelously beautiful.

Cultural Collaborations: Alexandria

5 Apr

In today’s modern age cultures from any corner of the world can come into contact with each other. Though we now often take the collaboration of different cultures for granted, many great things have come of two or more cultures coming together- as I am sure many more great things are to come.

Arguably one of the earliest and most elegant combinations of cultures occurred in 331 B.C. during Alexander the Great’s conquest through Egypt. Alexandria served as one of several capitals Alexander erected in his name. This particular capital diversified with the recently mixed Roman-Greek culture (due to Rome’s victory at the Battle of Corinth) and also with the unique Egyptian culture, was intended to be the storehouse of all knowledge on Earth.

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To uphold its name, a great library was built in Alexandria in which one copy of every single book in the world was to be stored. It is estimated that up to half a million works from all over the world were kept in Alexandria’s library during its apex-  let’s keep in mind that this was before press-publishing, and most publishing was hand-written on papyrus! The picture above shows you Alexandria’s new library, since the original has long been gone.

Another outcome of Alexandria’s diverse culture worth note is its’ distinctive forms of fine art. Though Egyptian and Roman-Greek sculptures are very distinguishable when juxtaposed, these separate forms were molded into a mixture of the two during Alexandria’s Hellenistic period. In the picture of the statue above, notice how the body is very much like that of traditional Egyptian sculpting, but the face very detailed and soft like that of the Roman-Greek culture.

This ancient collaboration of knowledge and the arts are just a few examples of what can come when people from different places come together and pool their knowledge and talents. How fortunate we are that we live during a time when entire cultures can come together with a press of a button. 

 

- OIA Bloggers

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Bangladeshi Youth Welcome the Cricket World

2 Apr

The people of Bangladesh – 160 million of them – might have a wide range of different tastes and interests, but they all share a common passion: the sport of cricket! Bangladeshis follow and love cricket with almost a religious fervor. Over the past decade, as their men’s cricket team has thrived in the international scene, the cricket craze has swept over the nation. Whenever Bangladesh plays, every television set in every household, office, restaurant, and street shop is tuned into the live telecast of the game. And when Bangladesh hosts other countries to play in their ground, the atmosphere in the stadium – and the surrounding area – is simply electric!
Thus, it’s no surprise that the cricket-crazy youth of Bangladesh had decided to take it into their own hands to welcome 15 cricket-playing nations to Bangladesh for the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 Cricket Tournament. This is the biggest international tournament for the Twenty20 format of cricket, and Bangladesh is the second country in Asia to host the prestigious competition. In order to welcome the guests to their country and to show support for the “Tigers” of the Bangladesh cricket team, students from different universities in Bangladesh have been performing flash mobs across the country. These flash mobs have been performed in the busiest streets of the cities of Bangladesh and also in the respective campuses of the universities. Set to the tune of the official theme song of the tournament, the flash mobs incorporate common motions in cricket to their dances, displaying a great affection for the nuances of the sport.
These flash mobs have been shared across the social media and have also been featured on television news broadcasts. The responses have been phenomenal and the people have loved the efforts of the young generation of Bangladesh to show support for their home team.
Personally, even though I have been away from Bangladesh for only 2 years, when I saw the flash mobs, I felt as if I had missed out an entire era of advancement. Women break-dancing on the streets wearing western clothes? Why was that so surprising to me? The performers and the audience seemed to be enjoying it a lot. Their only surprise was the sudden blasts of music with dozens of hyped-up students running in to join the flash mob. The flash mobs did an amazing job of capturing the true-vibe of the T20 theme song – Char Chokka Hoi Hoi. They were all festive, full of life, almost as if you could see bright colors swirling around the dancers and feel the excitement in every beat. After the flash mob videos went viral on facebook, Bangladeshis studying abroad also decided to get on the wagon and made their own flash mobs with the Bangladeshi community around them. Hence, Times Square in New York and Toronto experienced a very LIVE demonstration of the T20 world cup spirit!
Kudos to all those who represented their school, and more importantly their country, by doing what we Bangladeshis love doing – Dancing! It felt wonderful to be so far away from home during this festive time and yet feel the rush of adrenaline when seeing my friends and peers back home dance to Char Chokka Hoi Hoi!
-Suaida Firoze

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