Asian Heritage Month Student Spotlight: Meet Our Students

Meet some of our students as they share thoughts on their passions, hobbies, culture and more!

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To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, we met with students from across our two campuses to share perspectives and insights on their culture, identity and life. Students talked about topics ranging from their various passions and hobbies to their favorite cultural cuisine and traditions.  

Find our interviews below.

 

Emily 

“My name is Emily, I am a third-year student studying English Literature, and I am the current Treasurer of Japan Society. My hobbies include swimming, ballet and creating art. 

I am half English and half Japanese, which has given me the opportunity to experience both cultures of each country.  

Japan makes a great travel destination for anyone who wants to visit somewhere that feels almost other-worldly. From the natural scenery to the architecture, festivals and the people, Japan is filled with an intricate beauty, unique to England's charm. 

The Japan society at QMUL has been a great way to meet many others who also share an interest in Japan and Japanese culture. Through many well organised events, members are given the chance to learn the language at many different levels, participate in food making and tasting activities, and take part in collaborations with other universities and QM societies. 

From travelling back and forth, I have found that Japan has so much to offer, and I hope many more people will take an interest in visiting. Every area has something new to discover; the food alone is reason enough to go.” 

Aisha 

“I am a final year undergraduate Psychology student. I am also the International Rep for S&E, and President of the QM Arab Society.   

Being born and raised in Saudi Arabia with ethnic roots from Kashmir I’ve been brought up with two different cultures. Whilst those cultures have their respective differences, they both have helped shape my identity, beliefs, values, and behaviours in many ways. The combination of these two cultures have had a significant impact on my outlook to life, and the world around me.  

Family is highly valued in both these cultures, and it has taught me to prioritise family ties above individual needs. That has affected my approach towards relationships, my everyday dealings, and my decisions in life. Hospitality is also an essential aspect of Asian culture, and guests are always treated with great respect and generosity. This value has shaped the way I treat and interact with others, strengthened my bonds with my friends, and has helped me reach out to strangers with more kindness and compassion.  

Both these countries are rich in history, culture and tradition that gets passed down from generation to generation. My heritage has influenced me in many ways not just spiritually, but it has strengthened my social norms and etiquettes, taught me the traditions of art, literature, cuisine, and the significant role I will play in passing this down to future generations.

For me, there’s nothing like Ramadan and Eid! These are my favourite cultural celebrations. 

Both Ramadan and Eid hold great spiritual and cultural significance for Muslims around the world. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. This month is a time of spiritual reflection, and self-improvement. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is intended to help Muslims focus on their faith and connect with God. Ramadan also involves additional prayers, charity, and reading Quran, the holy book of Islam. It highlights the values of compassion, generosity, and gratitude. 

Eid al-Fitr, or the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," marks the end of Ramadan and is celebrated with great happiness, joy, and festivity. It is a time for my family to come together with friends and the wider community to express gratitude for the blessings of Ramadan. I enjoy staying up all night preparing for Eid, by putting henna on myself and my family, decorating the house and wrapping gifts for everyone. We then look forward to the delicious food and festivities that last for about 3 days or more.  

Ramadan this year is coming up very soon (March 2023)! I look forward to enjoying the blessed month with my family & friends.” 

 

Ayuki  

“I am currently in my 4th year of MSc integrated biochemistry. I was born in London and have lived all my life here so far. My parents are both Japanese and they flew over here a few years before I was born.   

I was very fond of the Japanese culture since I was little. I'm currently able to speak English and Japanese fluently because of going to a Japanese school here in London, speaking Japanese with my parents and reading/watching Japanese things as a hobby. I've celebrated Japanese festivals often with my family, bringing the culture here in our house from Japan. Even right now, I like to listen to Japanese music and read manga sometimes (if I’m not so busy).  

My hobby currently is cooking. Of course, I make Japanese dishes often for myself and my family, but I also like to make foods from different cultures. I've also worked for several Japanese restaurants in London as a chef, which completely diverges from my current field of study, but it was enjoyable (and may possibly come in handy in the future). There's definitely lots of good Japanese restaurants around London so I hope you'd give it a try. One of the dishes I recommend making is the Japanese curry. It's very simple to make; chop the vegetables & meat and boil them, add the curry roux and serve with rice. It's good to serve to lots of people and you can customise the ingredients to your own liking. 

Regarding the QMUL Japanese society, I've been in the committee for 2 years and I currently teach Japanese in the society. Overall, I was very committed to giving back to the society. Lots of people have come to the society over the years, with different backgrounds. Apart from the Japanese nationals, we've had many people who came from learning the culture via anime/manga, some people who have lived in Japan for a while and some just curious to learn about a different culture. It's just very nice to see lots of people learning and enjoying our culture. 

I currently have no plans to live in Japan, surprisingly. Although it's a very beautiful and cultural country, I guess I prefer Europe to live in for some reason. But I would recommend going there at least once in your lifetime. There are lots of things you can experience there that you can't experience in other countries.”

Chiharu 

“My name is Chiharu (but mostly go by Chi), and I am currently in my final semester of my 4-year Psychology degree after previously spending the last year in Canada for my year abroad, studying at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus.  You can usually find me walking around campus in my bright red coat, and big black backpack (although you might need to look down as my height falls below the eye level...).  Another place you can find me is in the SU building, where I might be hosting a Psychology Society event or attending Japan Society (JSoc) events.  I am a huge lover of psychology and very passionate about wellbeing and figuring out ways I can use different mediums to improve wellbeing.  I really enjoy singing, drawing, and watching anime.  More recently, I have also begun to enjoy cooking and making drinks, especially for other people!  

Psychology has always been my calling.  I have always been interested in figuring out how and why people behave the way that they do.  My experiences being autistic and growing up with a non-verbal autistic brother further led me to the desire to understand behaviour so I can figure out how best to support individuals with various mental health issues and neurodivergence and let them feel heard and understood by others around them. Within my course, I also learn about various cultural differences that can occur with different psychological phenomena which have always been fascinating to me.  Once again, I always want to incorporate the different parts of myself into the work that I do so I can help others.

I never really thought about how I embrace my heritage.  As I reflect now, I don't necessarily do anything special, I mostly embrace Japanese culture through the everyday activities you don't think about.  For example, the greetings we'd give each other at the door when we leave and arrive at our home, taking my shoes off before I go into my house, and the way I'd brush my teeth.  As a child at school, I would jump at any mention or opportunity to connect my work to Japan to find out more about my culture and share my knowledge with others, but I never felt fully connected to being Japanese until I became an adult.  Growing up half-Japanese in a small town up north in the UK during the 2000s, being half-Japanese felt more of a "fun fact" that made me more interesting, rather than an integral part of my identity, and even now I always feel like I'm not embracing my culture as much as I should be (especially since I don't know the Japanese language very well). Nowadays, I make an effort to spend more time with my mum (who is Japanese) and learn more about Japan, particularly through food, and art (especially origami!).  Watching anime and various YouTube channels also allows me to have a glimpse into the various Japanese customs and traditions.   

I joined JSoc in my first year to meet more people and make friends, as well as learn more about Japan! I wasn't able to attend as many events during my first year, but one memory I had was the Undokai (sports day) event that was held between the different London university JSocs.  This year, I was able to attend more events, and I have loved every event I had attended. The committee are amazing and so lovely, and I have made many new friends!  It feels special to be part of a community that loves Japan so much.  Some of my favourite memories include the first dinner JSoc held this year where I got to know most of the friends that I have now, and the conversations I had during that time where I was bonding over old Japanese childhood shows other people wouldn't know about.  I also loved the Speed Meeting event JSoc held at the start of this semester where I got to learn a new traditional game, which was chaotic and fun! I also loved eating the snacks!”

Mariam 

“Celebrating my Asian heritage is something that’s really important to me, especially given the fact that my ancestors had fought for our culture and language. As much as I love my culture and who I am, it can sometimes be difficult to connect with my culture as I grew up in London and never got the chance to really learn my mother tongue. Being Bengali, people can sometimes judge the fact that I don’t know my language (given the history and how much my people fought for this), but I can learn and love my culture in other ways like through learning the history of Bangladesh, loving the food, clothing, wedding and family traditions. 

I love that my country fought for my independence and I’m proud to call myself Bengali – that was something that wasn’t always true as I felt self-conscious about it when growing up. But through the strength of family and learning about the history of my culture, it made me understand that being Bengali and Asian means to have love for your community and culture as well as proudness in the sense of belonging and identity.

I think it has helped me believe in myself because I've seen what my people have gone through and realised that I have been raised through hardships and struggles, so there is a standard that has been established that has reassured me and made me stronger, and I love my culture for it. I have witnessed my parents struggle coming to a new country while still being true to their culture, beliefs and values. I hold that with me and love them for showing me that you can struggle and be true to yourself and your identity while still being able to achieve and live life to the fullest. It has made me want to achieve and succeed in all aspects of my life and makes me confident to speak up for those who may not have a voice, fight for those in my community and reach for the impossible because my culture has shown me that it’s possible.”

Kristina and Ingrid 

"We are Kristina and Ingrid, the President and Vice President of QMBL Mahjong Society. We were both born and raised in Hong Kong, where Mahjong is commonly played by not only the older generation, but an increasing number within the younger population as well. During Covid-19, we would always find ourselves playing Mahjong with friends and family, since it was one of the only activities you could do indoors. Many friends were also keen to learn how to play during this time – this led us to the idea of founding our society to promote a game with such a rich history and culture with other students. 

As part of Asian Heritage Month, we would like to introduce you to Mahjong, one of the most played cultural and historical games in the world. Mahjong is a tile-based game that originated in China during the Qing dynasty around 300 years ago. Today, there are many variations of mahjong, and it is gaining popularity around the world rapidly. Mahjong is a game of skill, strategy and luck; although the game is hard to master, the basics are straightforward and will become easier with practice. 

Mahjong was originally called ?? (máquè) in Chinese- meaning 'sparrow', which is still used in some Southern Chinese countries. The origins of mahjong remain unclear; however, some sources claim that sparrows used to infest granaries in ancient China, resulting in damage to the food supply every year. To protect the harvested grains, officials would encourage people to kill and capture sparrows, giving them prize money as a reward. Bamboo tiles were allocated to poachers as tokens which they could exchange for money, which evolved into the tiles in mahjong. Many terms used in mahjong today are derived from the origins of the game: ? (pèng) mimics the gunshots fired to kill the sparrows and ? (wàn), meaning thousand represents the prize money poachers receive etc.  

Mahjong is played by 4 players and there are 144 tiles in total. In China, inviting someone to a game is almost synonymous with friendship, therefore the game has evolved into a representation of amity and peace. Owning expensive mahjong sets may also be seen as a status symbol and a source of pride in some Chinese families. 

The QMBL Mahjong Society aims to promote and raise awareness of Mahjong, and of course play it with other Mahjong lovers! We hold regular Mahjong events every few weeks, as well as collaborations with other QM societies and other universities. If you are interested in learning how to play, or would just like to come see what’s up, don’t hesitate to join us at our future events!”

 

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