I am Vaiva! I received the position as the Global Community Assistants at Leeds University Union (LUU) as well as being a Link to Leeds Ambassador! I started working at LUU because as an international student myself, I wanted to bridge the gap between international and home students. My team and I were planning the World Unite Festival for months before it took place. The idea behind the World Unite Festival is to create a week of cultural celebrations showcasing the diversity of our campus as well as recognise and educate students about global issues, and how we can unite together to understand and address them.
One of the main events created for the World Unite Festival was the Give and Take: ‘Caught Between Cultures’. When organising the festival, which celebrates the diversity and inclusion of different cultures at our university, it was important for the team to recognise that some students have difficulty identifying themselves with one culture. Some might find it hard to answer the question: ‘Where are you from?’, or ‘So, are you international?’. Therefore, the event aimed to raise awareness that some students don’t have one country they can call home, yet they can still find a community they belong to within the university. In the panel, we were talking about the challenges of being a third culture kid, the common experiences of students who identify as third culture kids as well addressing misconceptions of being an international student or coming from a second-generation immigrant family. I believe that the event empowered the students who were attending and showed them that there was a community for everyone within our university.
Hola! I am Catalina, and I believe there is no better way to celebrate our culturally diverse community than through food! That is why this year’s World Unite Festival, arranged two consecutive evenings for students to try recipes from all around the globe. On Wednesday the 11th of March, the World Unite Festival Cooking Demonstration took place at the far end of the Refectory. The evening started with interesting historical facts about traditional British sweet buns which are eaten during Holy Friday: Hot cross buns. For example, the cross on top of these baked rolls represents the Crucifixion and ingredients like cinnamon make reference to the spices used to embalm Jesus.
Following a quick historical recount, it was time to get our hands dirty- or more precisely, doughy! – and start making our very own hot cross bun. The first step was to knead some pre-made dough, something I have never done before and which proved confusing at the beginning. However, after the chef suggested to keep my fingers firmly pressed against the table while rolling the dough, I achieved round and even texture. With my bun ready for some icing, I got prepared to use a piping bag for the very first time which is clearly not as easy as it seems on TV. Thankfully, there were no major spillages and with a bit of effort, I managed to draw a nice – and somewhat symmetric- cross on top of my pastry.
With the buns in the oven, we got to finally try some food including the famous Rocky Road Cake. These are brownie-sized squares made of marshmallows, biscuits lots of chocolate which are perfect for sharing with friends during Easter time. Not only are these absolutely delicious but they are made with a no-bake recipe, making them incredibly convenient and easy to prepare and store as a tasty treat to come home to after a busy day.
Catalina and I (Joceline), quickly moved on to the next activity, which was to decorate chocolate Easter eggs! This was my first time decorating an Easter egg and let’s just say, there’s a reason why I’m studying chemistry, not art! We were each given a large chocolate egg that was split into two pieces. Then we began decorating it with icing, sprinkles, and freeze-dried raspberries. I went over to different tables to see how everyone was doing, and I saw some really cool designs! At the same time, we were decorating the chocolate eggs, we glazed our hot cross buns with apricot-orange glaze. The buns were golden-brown and after glazing, they were so glossy and tempting!
But that wasn’t the end of our event! We moved on to have a demonstration of Šaltibarščiai, a cold beetroot soup eaten during summer originating from Lithuania. This dish was demonstrated by Vaiva, a fellow Link to Leeds ambassador and a member of the team which arranged the World Unite Festival. To start off, we mixed boiled pickled beetroot with kefir. The reason that we were using pickled beetroot is to make it more sour. A bit of the liquid from the beetroot is added into the mixture to give it a nice pink colour. The next step is to season it with salt and add the chopped-up cucumbers into the soup. The potatoes and eggs were added last to prevent it from turning pink. Lastly, spring onions and a bit of dill were added to garnish the soup! The soup was surprisingly tasty, it is quite sour but when consumed in conjunction with the potatoes and eggs, the flavours balance out! This soup is definitely one for the summer!
After tasting the soup, we were moving towards the end of the event. Awards were given out for the best hot cross buns and easter egg, and sadly I did not win any! However, I did get to try the hot cross buns, which were lovely and absolutely delicious! The event was a wonderful opportunity to meet others and do some interesting things!
After consuming a significant amount of sugar, the Tea Tasting session taking place on Thursday 12 at Room 5 in Leeds University Union was the ideal opportunity to get a grab a much lighter refreshment. This time, I passed on the biscuits and focused on tasting a selection of teas from all different countries including India, Greece, Kenya and the UK. After some deliberation, the light aftertaste of liquorice made Hampstead Tea my winner and a must-have in my weekly groceries.
While brewing some more tea, I got to meet people from different parts of the world and hear about the tea-drinking traditions in their countries. For instance, one of my Scrabble teammates, who came from Japan, told me how they prefer not to put any milk in their tea as they enjoy feeling the natural texture and consistency of their drink- a fact that left some British students shocked. The Scrabble fun and one last ‘cuppa tea’ marked the end of two consecutively mouth-watering evenings where I got to know more about different cultures and learn about new recipes and ingredients that now hold a place in my cooking repertoire.
As one of the main organisers, I believe that the highlight of the week was the Global Nights Market taking place in front of the Union building. There were international street food featuring Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Chinese, Korean and Dutch cuisine (to name a few!) alongside independent arts, crafts, clothing, and jewellery stalls. As well as lots of performances showcasing traditional dance and music, including performances from Indonesian society and Nepalese society. The event was full of bright energy and opportunities for people to express themselves and their culture.
If you’re coming to Leeds in the near future, this is one of the most important events to participate in! Either highlighting your culture or getting to know someone else’s 🙂