Homesickness and nostalgia are familiar adversaries in the life of most residential college students. Some students find themselves seeking the comfort and familiarity of traditions, especially around the holidays.
For students like Keene State College first-year Victoria Bergstrom, this means an impromptu gathering of close friends to celebrate Sankta Lucia Dagen — or Saint Lucia’s day — and Finland’s 100th birthday. According to Sweden.se, “the Lucia celebrations represent one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden, with its clear reference to life in the peasant communities of old: darkness and light, cold and warmth.”
First-year student Gabriel Vasquez-Billin, a close friend of Bergstrom’s who attended the celebration, said Bergstrom’s connection to her Scandinavian roots are very important to her. “She’s very, very patriotic about that whole Nordic area: Norway, Sweden, Finland, all that,” he said. “I think it was absolutely wonderful that so many people showed up for this little last minute celebration that she put on for something that she cared so much about. And even though there wasn’t much there, she put in a lot of work,” Vasquez-Billin said.
“My father is Swedish and my mother is Finnish… so I’ve just kind of always grown up with it,” said Bergstrom. “It was important to me to share, you know, what I’ve grown up with… just really showing what my culture is about.”
Vasquez-Billin said his father was born in Tenancingo, Mexico. ”I’ve been able to visit Mexico once… meet my cousins, which was great,” Vasquez-Billin said. “We speak a lot of Spanish in the household… for special events like birthdays, holidays, family-get-togethers, my dad absolutely loves making nopales, which is cactus, guacamole, of course, pico de gallo… his Mexican food.”
Vasquez-Billin said traditions like these require family to be present, making it hard to connect while away from home. “We haven’t celebrated it for a few years because we’ve kind of grown up a little,” Vasquez-Billin said.
KSC Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity, Dr. Dottie Morris, talked about her experience with the importance of connecting to one’s cultural background while away from home., “I think it’s one way to know who you are” Morris said. “Any time there’s a chance to celebrate, I think it really does help people reconnect with home.”
Morris, however, said she finds her comfort in supportive friends, and encourages others to be supportive, “Even if, you know, you go somewhere, you come back with just a dessert that’s reminiscent of their culture and give it to them… or if you say hey, you know, can you teach me how to cook something from your culture… that kind of pulls people together,” Morris said. “I grew up in the south… and even though I’ve lived in New England almost twenty years now, there are certain times of the year… for example, Mardi Gras… There’s just very few opportunities to celebrate Mardi Gras in the way that it’s celebrated in New Orleans… I miss being connected… and it has helped when people have said, ‘oh, let’s go down to North Hampton, they’re having Mardi Gras.’” Morris said, “I’m saying it helps some people because it helps me.”
Emma Mehegan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org