For graduate students, the end of October is when you start feeling the heat — you are venturing into the harder topics of your courses, the next set of exams are due in no time, and assignments are more challenging than ever. Even amidst all of that chaos, being in the U.S. makes it hard to miss the “Halloweeny” transformation happening all around you, beginning weeks before the actual night of Halloween. You notice front yards festooned with spooky spider cobweb decor, random pumpkin carving contests happening at various campus grounds, stores putting up Halloween costumes on sale, and in no time, your Facebook feed is flooded with a myriad of Halloween party invites!
What is the point of studying abroad if you don’t let a bit of the local culture infuse your life?
With that thought, we took a break from our midterm study time and dashed to a nearby store on the evening of Halloween, bought ourselves some decent costumes and decided to check out a party hosted by VGSA (Viterbi Graduate Student Association) at USC. Except for some carved pumpkin jack-o’-lantern decor and Halloween candy, with people twirling to popular Indian music, it looked more like an Indian student gathering rather than a Halloween party. Not surprising, since Indians make up a sizeable chunk of the graduate student population here at USC. It was a bit disappointing though, since we were hoping to witness an All-American Halloween, complete with apple bobbing, punch served from pumpkins and Halloween-themed cocktails and finger food.
We headed back home hoping to get entry into one of the house parties nearby, only to find that it had been forced to shut down early. But it was quite amusing to watch people from the party stumble onto the street, trying to assemble their drunken set of friends in search of other parties. We had heard that Halloween in the U.S. is an excuse for teenagers and college students to dress up as slutty anythings — from scantily clad nurses to slutty butterflies — and there were people dressed up in all sort of raunchy costumes!
For us Indians, October through November is also the season of the Hindu festival Diwali, one of the largest celebrations of the year. Diwali, known as the “Festival of lights,” is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Back home, it is celebrated with much pomp, with lamps or diyas lit up all around the house, special savories, and a spectacle of burning crackers. At USC each year, the AIS (Association of Indian Students) organizes a night of dance, drama, and a musical gala. We realized that we had underestimated the sheer population of Indians here when we almost missed entry to the event because of limited capacity. Though we missed out on the traditional scrumptious Indian dinner, the enthralling performances — musical medleys, traditional dance, and drama — it gave us the feeling of being closer to our cultural roots. We ended the celebration by lighting up diyas at our home and savoring some Indian sweets we had carefully stacked away for the occasion.
During the past few years, I have seen my relatives and friends in the U.S. posting pictures of costume parties on Halloween and also celebrating Indian festivals with cultural communities here, and I always wondered what it felt like to be a part of a cultural mosaic. This year, I got to live it myself. It was my first time celebrating a festival of a foreign country as well as my cultural festival in a foreign land. Though neither of them were close to how they are natively celebrated, the joy of being a part of the multiculturalism made it all worth it.