Vietnam Time

5/14/2019 8:54:24 AM

Homesick Vietnamese students in regional Queensland unite to celebrate Lunar New Year

Many Vietnamese students in regional Queensland who previously flew home for Lunar New Year are now staying and creating a new tradition to celebrate the most important event on the Asian calendar.

Lunar New Year festivities are closely tied with family reunions, but this year Sunshine Coast-based university student Son Le is celebrating with a mix of Australian and Vietnamese nationals — some of whom he has never met before.

Moving from Hai Phong in north Vietnam to Queensland in 2015 to undertake a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Mr Le said he was taking part in Vietnamese celebrations to remind him of home.

"I think every student, when they study in another country, they will miss their family a lot when the new year is coming, but we have no choice," said Mr Le.

Despite all the traditions associated with Lunar New Year — the food, red packets, happiness and good luck — Son said for him, reunion was the most important part of the annual celebration.

"All the family members have to be together on the new year day. If they [family members] work far from their hometown, they have to go back and celebrate with the relatives."

Mr Le's parents work as farmers and although they are missing him, they are proud of the fact that he has an opportunity to study in Australia.

"They don't have money and even my family is a little bit sad that the children have to go study in another country, but they are very proud because coming to Australia to study is not easy," Mr Le said.

"They said it gives good fortune for me and other relatives."

About 100 people attended Lunar New Year celebrations at the University of the Sunshine Coast

With Lunar New Year being such an important event to the Vietnamese community, Mr Le marks the event with the Vietnamese Association Sunshine Coast — a group of Vietnamese students at the USC.

"The atmosphere [in Australia] cannot compare to Vietnam … it's totally different. In Vietnam now, the streets … you can see a lot of shops have the red colour and everyone goes out and buys decorations for their house.

"But for me, I have to study here so that is why we try to mimic the real situation in my country," Mr Le said.

He said the idea of the university's Lunar New Year party was "to show the close relationship … and happiness" between Vietnamese students and workers on the Sunshine Coast.

"I don't think there are a lot of parties like this in Australia so it will show people how close we are," Mr Le said.

Associate Professor Doctor Stephen Trueman supervised the USC's first Vietnamese student in 2008, Cao Dinh Hung, who graduated in August 2011.

Since then, Dr Trueman has witnessed the formation and expansion of the university's Vietnamese community.

"When he [Cao Dinh Hung] came here, he was the only Vietnamese student at USC," Dr Trueman said.

"Once the numbers grew here, some of the students probably got together and decided to form an association. For a while, we had five then 10 students … in 2013/2014, and now we have 25."

He said the group had made a profound, deeply personal impact on the students.

"I think it removes the sense of isolation. When there was only one or two students here they actually travelled home to Vietnam each year for Lunar New Year because they had no-one else to celebrate with.

"They were a long way from their family. But now there's such a large community, a lot of other Vietnamese people.

"So at least they can get together in a large community like this … celebrate and have a really big party for the start of [the] new year," he said.

The celebration included a wide selection of Vietnamese food

Mr Le said the celebration was "also [a chance] to show the local people here how we celebrate the new year."

Micah Jones grew up on the Sunshine Coast and lived in Vietnam in the early 2000s for 16 years, during which time he met and married his wife.

He said he joined the Lunar New Year celebrations to remember a time of his life he reflected on with affection.

"It just reminds me so much of my family back in Vietnam, my mother-in-law and what we do for TET … bringing those memories back for me is great," he said.

"Something like this has just been a part of my life for so long, and I don't want to let go of those things because that was a beautiful time of my life, my wife is Vietnamese so I want to hold on to that and make it part of my life."

Chan Nguyen moved to Queensland in 2013 from Ho Chi Minh City to study her Masters in Marine Biotechnology. When asked what members of her family she left behind in Vietnam, she said: "my whole family, it's hard isn't it?"

Ms Nguyen said USC's Lunar New Year party did not have the same "food and emotion" as back home but she was very happy that there were celebrations here.

"I haven't had a real Lunar New Year for five years, it's very hard for me," she said.

Mr Le said while he could not be in Vietnam for Lunar New Year, he wished his friends and family good luck for the new year.

"It's very exciting to see the new year coming and I wish all the best for my family and my study also," Mr Le said.

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