Students from around the world experience first Halloween at UB
Russian, Chinese, Indian and Israeli traditions differ from American Halloeween
Yulia Gilichichiskaya, a graduate media study student from Russia, only knew about Halloween from what she had seen in movies.
That type of experience is similar for many international students – UB often serves as their first real-life introduction to the holiday.
International students make up about 17 percent of enrolled students at UB. In 2013, UB ranked among the top 20 U.S. universities in international student enrollment.
Although some of these students are finishing off their fourth year at UB, others are just beginning, and are about to experience their first Halloween in America.
Gilichichiskaya attended her first Halloween-costume party when she attended college in Moscow.
This year, Gilichichiskaya is going to attend her first Halloween party in the United States thrown by the graduate student department. She hopes to go bar hopping afterward and attend the ghost tour in Buffalo’s Central Terminal.
“I’m going as a ‘Russian,’” Gilichichiskaya said. “A striped shirt, teddy bear and bottle of vodka. An ear flat cap, too, if I can find one.”
Although Gilich experienced a small taste of the Halloween experience when she was in Moscow, she never experienced going door-to-door trick-or-treating with friends and family, collecting candy from her neighbors.
“I’ve never trick-or-treated in my life,” Gilichichiskaya said. “I feel like I’m missing out.”
After she moved to Israel in 2011, Gilichichiskaya was the only one who walked into work wearing a costume on Halloween.
“I was the only one who even remembered about the holiday,” Gilichichiskaya said.
In Israel, Jews celebrate Purim, the closest thing they have to Halloween, Gilichichiskaya said. Purim is a religious holiday. People dress up in costumes and wear them to temple.
“The first time I experienced [Purim] I was mesmerized,” Gilichichiskaya said. “Even rabbis and solemn old people dressed up for temple on Purim.”
On Purim, observant Jews go to temple and listen to the story of the holiday – the book of Esther – and pray. The holiday commemorates the escape of the Jewish people from Haman, a royal adviser to the King, who had plotted to kill all the Jews throughout the empire. Esther, who had risen to become Queen of Persia, saved the Jewish people. The holiday is now a day of feasting and celebration.
More secular Jews drink and party, similar to Halloween, Gilichichiskaya said.
“It is commanded to be joyful and to drink on Purim,” Gilichichiskaya said. “So drinking on that day is still a part of the tradition. It’s a really fun holiday.”
Unlike Gilichichiskaya, Mahathi Gottumukkala, a sophomore economics major, experienced trick-or-treating back at home in India when she was in seventh grade.
She had only heard about Halloween from what she had seen on television shows such as Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” and the “Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” she said.
Eager to get involved in the Halloween spirit, Gottumukkala and her friends hung up posters around their apartment building urging her neighbors to get candy because they were going to go trick-or-treating.
Gottumukkala, along with the rest of the children in the building, went knocking door-to-door for Halloween candy.
“Some people had candy and some people didn’t,” Gottumukkala said. “But it was still fun to dress up and it amused people.”
India doesn’t customarily celebrate Halloween but Gottumukkala got a small taste of the celebration as child. She was astounded at how big Halloween was in America.
“Halloween stuff comes out in stores months in advance,” Gottumukkala said. “I didn’t know it was so big, I was quite surprised.”
For her first Halloween in the United States, Gottumukkala visited haunted houses in the Student Union and in Goodyear. She thought they were done well.
This year, Gottumukkala hasn’t decided what she will do on Halloween.
“There are so many options,” Gottumukkala said. “I will definitely visit one of the haunted houses and possibly watch a movie with the UB Lit Club.”
Sushobhna Batra, a junior biochemistry and biological sciences major, is from New Delhi, India. She said in New Delhi, Halloween has become a lot more popular over the last few years.
She experienced Halloween parties and dressing up in costumes at home, but her first American Halloween last year was an entirely new experience.
She decorated her dorm room with various Halloween decorations and little pumpkins and she attended a Halloween program in Governors Complex and carved pumpkins with her friends for the first time.
“My hands got a bit too slimy, but it was sheer fun,” Batra said.
This year for Halloween, Batra plans on attending the Haunted Union with her friends.
Guyin Yu, a junior political science and math double major, experienced her first Halloween in the fall of 2012 as a freshman at UB.
While Yu doesn’t care much for holidays, she took her first Halloween as an opportunity to socialize with friends and have fun.
It wasn’t customary in China to celebrate Halloween, according to Yu. She said while stores often try to get into the spirit by selling decorations, it’s on a much smaller scale than in the Unite States.
This year, Yu plans to get more into the spirit of Halloween than she has in the past. In past years, she didn’t choose to dress up, but this year she has decided to take part in the costumes.
“This year I plan on looking for makeup tutorials online and getting the vampire look,” Yu said.
Yu also plans on hosting a Halloween costume party for herself and her friends.