Srika Nambiar tells us about her experience celebrating Diwali in Leeds as an international student.
Being an international student is quite possibly one of the most daunting experiences I’ve ever faced. In addition to facing culture shock, it also takes quite some time to get used to the foreign land and its mannerisms; most importantly, it takes ages for it to feel like home. I came to Leeds last year and, in all honesty, it took me far too long to finally feel like I belonged here. Looking back, there were definitely times when I felt happy and finally settled, when I had found a group of friends who understood me and took care of me. But the time I missed home the most was during any kind of special occasion or cultural festival. For me, it was Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Diwali is a festival celebrated by Hindus. In fact, it is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated every year, around Autumn. The festival signifies and celebrates the win of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness. One significant tradition is the lighting of earthen lamps outside one’s home, as a way to welcome success, wealth, and prosperity. Honestly, I don’t really consider myself to be a religious person, but Diwali is one such festival that inevitably makes me feel terribly homesick and wishing I was back home with my family. Last year was my first Diwali away from home, and whilst it wasn’t that great, I did try my best to make myself feel like I was actually back home. A few days before Diwali, I began thoroughly cleaning my room, as my mother would do back home, and stocked up on Indian sweets in my house. With the help of my flatmates, I also decorated my living room with fairy lights and placed electric candles along the corridors and threshold of my home. I, for one, don’t really visit the temple, but homesickness got to me so much that I visited the Hindu Temple. Somehow, the ambience was so comforting that I genuinely felt like I was back home. My parents were surprised, but pleased to say the least. I also, of course, called my family back home, in an attempt to be a part of the celebrations!
Over the year, one thing I’ve come to realize is that it is always worth spending some time around people who remind you of home because that really helps reduce homesickness. Coming to university has helped me a lot in terms of broadening my horizon, helping me mingle, and getting to know people from cultures different to mine. However, at the same time, my small group of friends from back home are a constant reminder for me to stay true to my roots. I did this by joining cultural societies amongst the several in the union, such as the Indian Student Association. While you’re under no compulsion to join cultural societies, I have noticed that during times of extreme homesickness, it always helps to be around people that remind you of home.
Whilst Diwali in Leeds hasn’t exactly been the same as it is back home, it did teach me a lot about how important it is to stay in touch with your roots, even if you’re by yourself. Trust yourself to find happiness, sometimes just in your own company. With that being said, if you’re an international student who’s celebrating your first Diwali away from home, then don’t shy away from joining a cultural society or celebrating this special occasion because almost all international students are in the same boat, and there’s honestly nothing better than celebrating your culture and sharing it with others!