Ashish Fernando, Founder and CEO, iSchoolConnect

Ashish started his career as a Software Engineer with Thomson Reuters Inc., building their flagship investment research solution – Thomson One. He then went on to take multiple executive roles in Program Management and AI before managing the Data Science and Engineering business in the Insurance vertical. Ashish is a university gold medalist in Biotechnology and later went on to study Bentley University’s flagship MBA in 2014 with a 100% scholarship. Ashish founded iSchoolConnect in 2017 to solve the pain point of many parents and children: getting unbiased, hassle-free admission in foreign colleges. After going through the same trouble of finding a college to study that fit his needs, Ashish launched iSchoolConnect with a vision to democratize the global admissions market for graduate and undergraduate programs. Through the effective use of artificial intelligence, iSchoolConnect aims at being the most cost-effective and advanced solution for connecting students and schools worldwide.

 

Internationalization is now a key parameter for evaluating global institutions. It is defined as ‘the integration of all international students and scholars into the campus living and learning environment’ (Hudzik (2011, p. 35). This process has been accelerated since the turn of the 21st century, as a considerable number of students from India, China, and other Asian countries have migrated to prestigious international universities to pursue higher education.

Celebrating diversity is a key aspect of the integration process, and festivals are a great tool for practical learning. Festival celebrations foster respect and open-mindedness for other cultures. Global institutions understand the feeling of FOMO that students get during the festival season. As a result, they celebrate festivals of various cultural origins to lift the spirits of international students. This allows students to enjoy their festivals in the same way they do at home, fostering a strong sense of belonging and community spirit.

The following are a few festivals celebrated with great passion and zeal in international universities across the US, UK, and other European countries, considered the most popular destinations for higher education.

Diwali

Diwali is India’s biggest festival and is celebrated with great zeal and fervor. Despite being primarily a South Asian celebration, the glimmer of lights on Diwali can be seen in several countries, including Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Mauritius. Owing to its widespread popularity, several international universities now celebrate Diwali akin to their native festivals. The Indian Student Association or South Asian Student Association formed at the institutions organizes the entire celebration. The celebrations are done in the quintessential Diwali way, with puja followed by fireworks and traditional Diwali food. Adapting to the contemporary flavor of the festival, many institutions organize dance and music nights featuring Bollywood songs. The Diwali puja is an optional element of the festival celebrations. Students of all faiths can take part in the feast and other cultural activities. This drill instills a strong sense of camaraderie in the student community.

Halloween

Halloween is a time of sweet relief for students from their hectic schedules. Halloween traditions in universities are symbolic of inclusion and creativity. Though Halloween celebrations are alien to the majority of students belonging to the Asian culture, universities encourage participation from all students. Students dress up in spooky Halloween costumes, savor Halloween-themed snacks and enjoy pumpkin-carving contests and mystery games held on the premises. These festivals are celebrated inclusively, with students participating in large numbers and cherishing each other’s cultures and traditions.

Holi

Holi, a holiday that was formerly restricted to India and Nepal, has now spread across the globe. Many institutions in the United States and Europe, enticed by the festival’s bubbling energy and enthusiasm, hold Holi celebrations on campus. The celebrations entail playing with colors, hosting tea and snack parties, and playing popular traditional games. Though each university has its way of celebrating the holiday, the traditional condiments for celebrating Holi with zeal and bonhomie invariably remain the same.

Ramadan

Ramadan celebrations on campus often fill the atmosphere with a sense of unity, spirituality, and compassion towards each other. Meals that reflect the geographical and cultural diversity of the Muslim community are served in some college canteens. The colleges also assist Muslim students with their fasting rituals by providing boxed meals during early morning hours and extending the hours of dining halls to accommodate students breaking their fast after sunset. On balance, universities ensure that students observing this holy month on campus receive the necessary assistance.

Christmas

Primarily a Christian festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas is celebrated by a large number of people across the world. The cosmopolitan and secular spirit of this festival has made it a celebration for all regardless of their religious identity. Universities very well understand the enthusiasm around the festival and make elaborate preparations to celebrate Christmas on campus.

Cultural constraints back home may inhibit students from embracing other cultures. Therefore, festival celebrations at universities provide students with an excellent opportunity to learn about other cultures. Students are encouraged to enjoy and celebrate Christmas customs with their peers through parades, live music, Christmas tree lighting and decorations, art and craft booths, and festive food and drinks on campus.

Wrapping up

Institutions that demonstrate a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion attract students the most. It is this commitment to foster inclusivity through structural and functional adaptations that will win over the trust of students from various ethnicities/cultures. The festivals listed above are only a few of the many that are celebrated at prominent institutions around the world. Apart from these, the South Asian Student Associations at the respective universities also organize New Year parties, Cricket tournaments, Bollywood film screenings, and celebrate other South Asian festivals such as Chinese New Year and Dussehra.

While the academic curriculum includes courses that impart formal lessons on different cultures, it is through events and festivals that students truly experience and master the art of harmonious existence within a pluralistic society.

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