Cultures of MRU: Student Spotlight

This series is a live blog where four Mount Royal University (MRU) students are featured throughout November to celebrate Cultures of MRU. Cultures of MRU is a month-long program showcasing and highlighting the many cultures that make MRU a vibrant place to learn. This month also provides BIPOC students with support and resources to help them succeed in their post-secondary journeys. For more information about the workshops and events planned for this month, explore the events calendar.

Carlo D.

Carlo is a recent graduate from the Transitional Vocational Program (TVP) at MRU. He was born and raised in Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines and came to Canada in June of 2015.

“I am so excited for this time of year! Filipinos are well known for their hospitality and generosity during parties, particularly during the holidays. It’s a big deal for us,” explains Carlo.

For Filipinos, Christmas is one of the most important holidays of the year. Known for their love of festivities, Filipinos love to celebrate Christmas with family, friends, and relatives. It is a time of celebration where Filipino families unite and do an array of activities to celebrate the holidays and their love for one another.

Religion is centred during the holiday season, as many Filipinos identify themselves as Catholic. “We have a nine-day celebration, known as Misa de Gallo, a nine-day celebration leading up to Christmas Eve mass. Many Filipinos celebrate this together here in Calgary at parishes like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Mary’s cathedral,” says Carlo, “Many people don’t know this, but the Philippines was colonized by the Spanish and Japanese before it became independent. That is why you see a lot of Spanish terminology in our holiday events. Catholicism also came through colonization.”

There are still many Indigenous peoples living in the Philippines, specifically in the mountainous regions and the country’s southern areas.

The Filipino community in Calgary is strong and provides a sense of belonging and familiarity. “From back home, I miss the feeling of community. In the Philippines, I was surrounded by friends and relatives on my mother and father’s sides of the family. Through our festivities and shared culture, we still can feel some aspects of the closeness here in Canada too.”

Favour W.

Favour is a third-year Bachelor of Nursing student from Ibadan, the capital and most populous city of Oyo State in Nigeria. Her mother, an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) (a doctor specializing in women’s health), moved the family to Canada to pursue her career as a doctor in 2010. Favour’s family is part of the Yoruba people, one of three distinct groups found in Nigeria.

Three distinct groups of people make up the region: the Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa peoples. Each group has languages, customs, clothing, and traditions, making them distinctly unique. The Yoruba, for example, have distinct actions performed around the passing of family members.

Recently, Favour’s family experienced the loss of her grandmother. Travelling back to Nigeria this year, Favour shared some differences between Western and Nigeria funerary experiences. “In Nigeria, funerals are joyous, multi-day events. Funerals mark a celebration of life; participants wear colourful clothing instead of black dress, typically worn in Western mourning rituals,” explains Favour.

Western media narratives all too often paint African countries and cultures as monolithic, meaning a place in which all its individuals share both the same racial ethnicity, language, and series of beliefs, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“Africa is not a homogenous culture. Nigeria is unique, as are other countries on the continent; it is a rich country full of cultures with a wealthy economy,” says Favour, “Nigerian Afrobeat music also contributes to popular music and art culture; found worldwide.”

Reminiscing on what she misses most, Favour explains the feeling of a collective community.

“If I had to name one thing I miss the most from my country, I would say it’s the feeling of a collective community. Back home, everyone knows everyone; there is a sense of connection to the community you don’t generally find here in Canada,” explains Favour.

Parts of her culture remain in her daily life in Canada, including traditional hand foods, like jollof rice, made at home by her mother. Favour cites her mother as her inspiration to work in healthcare. She works at Foothills hospital, completing her clinical hours, while her mother works as a women’s health specialist.

Rachel G.

Rachel is an international student from Kerala state located in southern India. Kerala is located on India’s tropical coastline and is known by locals as “God’s own country.” It is renowned for its palm-lined beaches and backwaters, an intricate network of canals similar to lagoons and lakes.

There are many different cultures and religions in Kerala, including those who identify as Hindu and Christian. “There are many different religions that fall under these categories as well. Each area has complex and diverse cultural and religious systems,” explains Rachel.

“I think that many Canadians have misconceptions about India. I think they assume that everyone speaks Hindu. Hindu is just one of the many religions found within the country. The correct term for the language is Hindi, which refers to just one of the hundreds of languages spoken within the country. India is a beautiful place, but it is also a bustling and populated country. If I had to say anything about my country, it would be not to expect anything; you need to experience it for yourself first hand even to try to understand.”

Made using fresh flowers and petals, pookalams are designed at home and around public places to honour King Mahabali who is believed to return to his people every year.

Festivals are an essential part of Indian culture. Every community has its festivals and special celebrations; if you list only the major festivals, there are around 20 in a year. “We have a lot more time off than you have here in Canada. During the Onam festival, we have ten days off to spend with our family and friends,” says Rachel. Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in the fall to honour the kind-hearted and much-beloved demon King Mahabali, who is believed to return to Kerala during this festival. During the ten-day festivities, participants bathe, offer prayers, and don traditional clothing. Women wear gold sarees called the Kasavu saree and participate in dance performances, draw flower rangolis called pookkalam and cook traditional feasts called sadya.

While Rachel misses many things from back home, she is also enjoying new experiences here in Canada. “I am enjoying my independence. In India, children live with their families longer than they do here and generally don’t work until their over 18. I have a part-time job in addition to my studies, and I enjoy it,” says Rachel, “I am enjoying studying here, but I will say it wasn’t the easiest getting here.” The COVID-19 pandemic brought a variety of challenges for Indian students looking to study abroad. “I spent five days travelling to Canada through three countries because of travel restrictions that wouldn’t allow me to travel directly here. I was worried I might not make it in time to start my studies,” she reflects.

Staying with her family in Calgary, Rachel is now settling into student life at MRU pursuing a Bachelor of Science with a major in Biology. She has her sights set on going to medical school and becoming a doctor. “I love science, and I love anything bio-related,” she says excitedly.

Danika S.

“Art and community have been central in returning to the traditional ways of my culture. For years I struggled, and I felt like I had a sort of imposter syndrome while attempting to reconnect with my Indigenous heritage; I thought I was too old to start. I am moving forward and healing by learning to bead, dancing Powwow, and creating my paintings. The knowledge I have is a gift, and I’ve learned that it has no age requirement. I am proud to be Indigenous.” – Danika, second-year Bachelor of Science student at Mount Royal University.

Danika originates from the Fort William Reserve located in Northern Ontario around Thunder Bay. After moving to Calgary, she has become more involved in the Indigenous community allowing her to heal and engage more deeply with her culture. The elders of the Treaty 7 region welcomed her, and these are connections she deeply cherishes. Danika’s used to dance Fancy Shawl with her regalia made by her mother.

“Even though I can’t dance anymore, I still love attending Powwows. My favourite ones are the Powwows, where I meet members of other Indigenous communities or bring someone who has never been to one before. The culture is very welcoming to teaching and learning together through reciprocity and respect.”

Danika is a talented artist whose most recent work includes beading a unique yoke for her regalia, with her favourite stitch being the Peyote Flat Stitch. Danika also is a painter who enjoys creating images of animals. She recently gifted her older sister three paintings, one hanging in her sister’s classroom; she hopes that these paintings will prompt essential conversations in the school and allow her sister to share the stories and wisdom reflected in the pictures.

Danika’s deep love and respect for animals reflects in her studies. Pursuing a Bachelor of Science, Danika’s dream is to become a veterinarian. Of all animals, Danika’s favourite is the wolf. “In Anishinaabe culture, wolves are respected teachers, and the wolf taught humans survival through teaching them how to coordinate and hunt animals for food.”

“In a way, my culture is reflected through my dreams of working with animals. It is an extremely beautiful culture, and the deep respect and appreciation for animals and fellow people is a beautiful belief system to be a part of.”