Students at Arab region universities can celebrate national and religious holidays in a variety of ways – which can help them adjust.
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service celebrated Qatar National Day with a cultural performanceFrom the Great Turkey Hunt at American University in Cairo to a Christmas caroling flash mob atAmerican University of Beirut, the holidays bring a variety of activities for students at Western-style Arab region universities. And for Arab students studying abroad, these activities bring a welcome feeling of home to campus.
“Students spend a lot of their time in university,” says Adelle Ansara, an Egyptian-Bulgarian who is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in psychology with management at Heriot-Watt University’s campus in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “So, the university should do their best to make them feel at home.”
Ansara says her university does a good job with that. Her school has Christmas holiday decorations up, something that’s also done for other holidays like Eid and Diwali. For Halloween, the school held a costume contest for students.
In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, AUC annually holds a turkey scavenger hunt. Students, faculty and staff who find one of the three toy turkeys hidden around campus receive a real turkey.
“The turkey hunt was an initiative that started last year by the Office of Advancement and Communications to increase the interaction of AUC community on social media platforms,” said Rehab Saad El Domiati, a university spokeswoman, via email .
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar holds a variety of community activities for the different holidays and brings together students, faculty and employees. Moamer Qazafi, a spokesman for the school, says when Ramadan falls during the school year, activities like community iftars are held to discuss and learn about Ramadan and Eid. He says during Eid the campus is decorated with lanterns and a majlis is set up for people to congregate.
[Find out about the growth of extracurricular activities at Arab region universities.]
“During the autumn our students assemble a ‘Fall Fest’ with festive food and drinks along with often elaborate mini-theatrical performances to ‘spook’ the community,” said Qazafi, via email, adding that community dinners or potluck gatherings are also sometimes held for Thanksgiving.
For the winter holiday season, Qazafi says a staff member volunteers as Santa to treat children in the community to goodies. There is a group dinner on campus next to a large Christmas tree “with a banner explaining that symbol’s origins in ancient northern Europe.”
For the Christmas season, Elise Salem, vice president for student development and enrollment management at Lebanese American University, says the school holds gift exchanges, including Secret Santa, and hosts Christmas choirs on campus. She says the season is also an occasion for Muslim-Christian dialogue, in celebration of both the Prophet Muhammad’s and Jesus’ birthdays.
Salem says there are many charity and volunteer activities by student clubs during the season, citing fundraising campaigns by more than 20 student clubs that collect money, clothes, toys and blankets for Syrian and Palestinian refugees, orphans and the elderly. The school also had nearly 200 student volunteers participate in a full-day fair on campus that provided entertainment for 500 orphans.
Kamal Fodil, executive director of student affairs at Canadian University of Dubai, says for Christmas and New Year’s the school doesn’t do much, as it is a period of finals followed soon after by winter break, and most students prefer to go home for the holidays. During Ramadan, the school organizes two iftars for its students: one during the first week of Ramadan, and the second during the last week. For Eid the school organizes events, such as a tour of Dubai, mainly for international students.
“We did arrange once a tour of Dubai at night after iftar where students visited certain sites of Dubai, such as Madinat Jumeirah,” said Fodil, via email.
Jordanian national Hala Naser Alnsour, a media advertising major at CUD, is a newly elected event leader for her school’s student council. She says with 120 nationalities, it’s sometimes hard to settle on holiday celebrations, but they do mark national holidays.