The University of Iowa

International students experience their first Halloween

November 1st, 2010

Photo by Ricky Bahner

This article appeared in The Daily Iowan. See the original article here.

By Nora Heaton

Last year, at 19 years old, Stella Dai carved her first pumpkin. It was a beach scene, complete with serene waves and a palm tree.

But at this, her second-ever Halloween, with more accrued technique and jack-o’-lantern skill, the UI sophomore from Nanjing, China, carved a more gruesome specter: a screaming face, hands raised to the cheeks, mouth dropped open in terror.

She put her hands to her face to demonstrate, giggling over the screams of the Japanese version of The Grudge coming from the next room in the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center.

With 555 first-year international students at the University of Iowa — compared with 379 newcomers last year — more students now than ever before are experiencing a Western tradition for the first time: Halloween.

In Asian countries, where 79.8 percent of the UI’s international population hails from, Halloween is seldom celebrated on a large scale.

Yeon Jung Kim, a UI freshman from Seul, South Korea, gained her first taste of Halloween in kindergarten, when her class held a party for the few American students in her kindergarten class.

“It looked like fun,” she said. “I really wanted to try.”

“There’s a community feeling here. We’re all young and in the same mood on Halloween. It’s just a happy spirit.”

This year, she had her opportunity, attending a party with other Korean friends in a cat costume that twinned a friend’s. For her first real Halloween, Kim and her friends went to Coral Ridge Mall to find a costume, and the cat looked simple, she said.

At the party, the students danced, played board games, and sang songs.

Next year, she thinks, she will attend Halloween festivities as a pajama-clad baby.

Lance Mou also attended three Halloween parties for his first-ever crack at the holiday. But the best part of Halloween wasn’t the orange and black — it was the black and gold.

“We killed Michigan State,” the UI freshman, smiling with apparent relish.

A few hours earlier, that grin bared false fangs over a flowing black and red vampire cape.

Mou’s favorite costume sighting that night was at the game — a group of men dressed as Channel 11 Teletubbies.

“To see adult guys dressed like that … it was hilarious,” he said. “It was kind of cute.”

Felix Pennanen of Åland Islands, Finland, is no stranger to the costumes of the ghoulish holiday. In Finland, Halloween and All Saints Day are both observed — and both fall unhappily on the same calendar date. Controversially, Halloween is a celebration and All Saints Day is meant to be a more solemn Day of the Dead, he said.

Past costumes for Pannanen, a graduate student back home who is spending a semester taking undergraduate classes at the UI, have included Jim Carrey’s The Mask, as well as a cardboard and fabric duck.

This year, he attended the revelries as a Hawkeye football player.

“I guess if you’re American, it’s not acceptable or cool to be a football player, but for me, because I’m European, it’s more like a costume,” he said.

And beside it, what is uniquely Iowa Citian, Pennanen said, is the mentality.

“There’s a community feeling here,” he said. “We’re all young and in the same mood on Halloween. It’s just a happy spirit.”