Changing cultures: adjusting to Halloween

International students express their perceptions of the American holiday

The Spectrum

Rita Xu, a freshman communication major, has never experienced Halloween. She is an international student from Chongqing, China. Xu knew she was leaving her homeland to study abroad; she expected to spend her days surrounded by books in libraries and lecture halls. What she did not expect to find, though, was such a vibrant nightlife.

There are more than 5,300 international students at UB, ranking the school 17th among all American colleges and universities in international enrollment, according to UB's admissions website. Many of these students come from countries that don't promote Halloween.

Some of these students are shy and nervous to participate in the holiday. Others, however, say the atmosphere and "party attitude" pervasive in the UB community make it easier to get into costume mode and to celebrate the holiday.

Marissa Pantela, a UB alumna and teacherat the Greek Language School of the Annunciation in downtown Buffalo, first arrived in Buffalo in 2007. Originally from Cyprus, a small island in the Mediterranean, Pantela was used to a life of partying.

"In Cyprus, we are partying every night until 7 in the morning without age limitations," Pantela said. "The first time I went clubbing, I was 14 years old and I got really drunk."

Pantela said the nightlife in Buffalo does not compare to that of Cyprus, but the one thing she found here that was surprising was the night of Halloween.

Her first Halloween in Buffalo was in 2007. She went to Chippewa Street with a group of friends dressed as a "sexy bee," she said.

"It was an amazing, fantastic and unexpected experience," Pantela said. "People were going crazy downtown. People were dressed as hot dogs and girls were running around in only underwear. I couldn't believe it."

She compared Halloween to a celebration back home called "Carnival." In February, everyone decorates their cars and motorcycles and runs through the streets of Greece partying. People between the ages of 13 and 30 dance and drink through the day and the night. Pantela loves this celebration and has the opportunity to celebrate her own version of "Carnival" on Halloween each year.

Upon arriving at UB five years ago, she was depressed and unsure if she would be able to complete her undergraduate degree happily. Over time, she got used to the cultural differences and began to love it in Buffalo. She is now receiving her master's degree at Buffalo State while teaching at the Greek school, which is held through Hellenic Orthodox Church of The Annunciation on West Utica Street.

She hopes to see her students dressed up for Halloween next week. She's excited to dress as Catwoman this year.

Xu said back in Chongqing, students are not allowed to dress up for Halloween in high school. College students there celebrate the holiday sometimes, but parents and professors don't approve of Halloween because of their old-fashioned mentality, she said.

Last year on Halloween in China, Xu went to her friend's house and watched some scary movies. Nobody dressed up, nobody ate candy and nobody got drunk. She knows this year will likely be different.

Xu is expecting to go to a bar downtown and party with her friends. She said the nightlife in China is just as crazy and fun as the nightlife in America, but the actual celebration of Halloween - the dressing up, the trick-or-treating and the drinking - is non-existent in Xu's hometown.

"We don't have a big [Halloween] party there like we do here," Xu said. "I think Halloween will become more popular in China now because some commercial parks have big events, like the Window of the World in Shenzhen. The youth there are interested in celebrating. But the old generation in China is not interested or accepting. They don't get excited about [American] events like Halloween and Christmas."

Though the nightlife in China is similar to the nightlife in Buffalo - dance clubs, tables with bottles of alcohol and main stages where girls can dance - Xu said her friends back home will never experience a "real" Halloween like the Halloween in Buffalo. She is excited to finally experience one.

Meris Kural arrived in America in 2006. Originally from Turkey, she chose to study abroad at SUNY Geneseo. In 2010, she came to UB to receive her master's in sociology. Kural is now a Ph.D. sociology student, and she teaches sociology of diversity at UB.

Back in Turkey, very few children attended costume parties in honor of Halloween. The holiday is not as big of a deal there as it is in the United States, she said.

"There are decorations on houses and there are so many candies in United Sates," Kural said. "There are no decorations or costume parties in Turkey."

Kural didn't attend any wild parties or see any half-naked girls when she experienced Halloween in America. What surprised her was the old-school cultural aspect of Halloween - the frightening decorations and the amount of sugar that people consumed.

"I was surprised when I was an undergrad in Geneseo," Kural said. "When I was a freshman, I bought so many candies from Walmart. I exchanged candies and chocolates with my neighbors in my dorm. People told me that Americans eat so many candies [during] Halloween. I had a night class, and I was walking on campus. Few people had decorations outside and the streets were loud. Since I was walking on my own, I got scared."

She did not dress up that year, though. She said, as a freshman, she was still trying to get used to the American culture. After one year, though, she became accustomed to the college campus lifestyle.

In the following years, she has dressed in costumes including those of a witch, pirate and bunny rabbit. Even last year as a Ph.D. student, she was so into the holiday that she dressed up as a sailor, though she had a lot of studying to do.

"I like the occasion because it is different," Kural said. "I treat myself. I eat cupcakes or sweets. I do not dress up to go to school or work, [but] I like dressing up for costume parties. This year, I might dress up with one of my close friends; we're going to do something simple."

She said she does drink on Halloween in America but not so much home in Turkey. After getting used to the American culture, Kural has loved celebrating Halloween.