While the Gregorian New Year falls on the same date every year, the date of the Lunar New Year changes annually, typically falling between Jan. 20 and Feb. 20. The occasion is traditionally celebrated among family and friends in countries including China, South Korea and Vietnam.
For international students, however, these traditions can be difficult to come by in Gambier. This year’s Lunar New Year Celebration, hosted by Kenyon Asian Identities (KAI), the Department of Modern Languages and Literature (MLL), the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) and a student planning committee, offered the opportunity for international and non-international Asian students to celebrate the Lunar New Year with a shared community and for other students to experience these traditions as well.
Students and professors gathered in the Gund Commons Ballroom on Friday, five days after the Lunar New Year, to celebrate the holiday. The Lunar New Year Celebration began with three student speakers from South Korea, China and Vietnam. Each person spoke about traditional foods from their native country, familiar games and the importance of the Lunar New Year to them. After cultural presentations, students taking Chinese courses performed a variety of songs. Afterward, audience participants played a game of “Chopsticks and Skittles,” where they competed to see who could move the most Skittles onto their plate with a pair of chopsticks. KAI and other co-sponsors of the event provided dinner for all attendees as well.
Melissa Vu ’26, a member of KAI and an international student from Vietnam, reflected on the value of Kenyon’s Lunar New Year celebration. “As an international Asian student, I feel emotional because I cannot celebrate it [in Vietnam],” she said. “We celebrate everything together; [it’s the] most important day in our culture.”
Rosa Kwon ’26, a Korean-American student from Virginia, shared the sentiment. “I definitely think it’s [important] because it’s a predominantly white school,” she said. “It’s nice to have a community that celebrates the Lunar New Year.”
With this Lunar New Year celebration being one of the first to occur after COVID-19, professors and students also appreciated how far the celebration has grown in the past few years. Robert A. Oden Jr. Professor of Chinese Jianhua Bai previously hosted the Lunar New Year celebration, then called the Chinese New Year Party, at his own house. This year, the celebration was held in the Gund Commons Ballroom and had dozens of students attending.
This year’s celebration was also unique, as KAI focused heavily on including different cultures. “Sometimes [KAI] takes a backseat to any volunteers who might want to present and share about [their culture],” said Michelle Lin ’23, one of KAI’s co-presidents. Lin also stressed the importance of representing all cultures who celebrate Lunar New Year, with KAI inviting several different speakers to talk about their holiday traditions.
While students enjoyed the celebration overall, some international students still missed the traditional aspect of celebrating with their families at home.
“I feel a little bit sad,” Vu said, regarding the inability to celebrate the Lunar New Year with her family in Vietnam. “[But] having a celebration, especially with people I like and love, is actually really fun because I can celebrate it with [my] friends.”
Lin agreed with the importance of including all members from the Asian diaspora and in cultivating a community on campus that respects and celebrates holidays like the Lunar New Year. “It’s important that the student body is included and knows about it because it shows a lot of care for students who may not be able to celebrate with their families at times,” she said. “I think it’s really important to show up for them in a way that shows that their beliefs and their practices matter.”
Audrey Gibson contributed to reporting.