At UIC Nursing, Thai New Year is a favorite celebration

The smell of golden, crispy egg rolls and steamed tapioca dumplings filled the College of Nursing's Third Floor Event Center on Apr. 16, as Thai dancers wearing brightly-colored silk dresses and sabais, or shawls, twirled to the jingling beat of a Thai xylophone and drums.

This was the annual Thai New Year celebration—also called Songkran—an event that has been held annually at UIC Nursing for at least a dozen years, growing in both size and scope over time.

“This is one of the most special and welcomed celebrations that we have at our college, and many people have told me this is their favorite event that we have here,” said Linda McCreary, PhD, RN, FAAN, clinical associate professor and associate dean for global health, during her introductory remarks.

About 90 students, faculty and staff gathered for the festivities, which were organized through a joint effort of Graduate Student Nurses Organization (GSNO) and Thai doctoral students.

Known as a water festival, Songkran is celebrated from April 13 -15. Thai people traditionally take part in merrymaking, visiting temples, remembering the dead, and performing water rituals to cleanse bad luck and bless one another with fortune and happiness for the year ahead.

As a College of Nursing tradition, the annual Songkran celebration dates back to around 2006, when a few Thai students, staff and faculty gathered in an 11th floor conference room, said Tina Kavukattu, assistant director in the Office of Global Health Leadership. UIC Nursing has a long and cherished connection to Thailand, with about 30 alumni and some 75 visiting scholars in many of the nursing schools there, Kavukattu said. There are currently five doctoral students from Thailand studying at UIC. 

The celebration

Aimon Butudom, a PhD student from Thailand who has been the chief organizer of the Songkran celebration for the past five years, said the event brings Thai culture to UIC and is an important way "for students to show respect for the staff."

Using silver bowls, students poured water with flower petals over the hands of faculty and staff as a sign of respect. In turn, the faculty and staff blessed the students by splashing them with water from golden urns.

"I particularly love the Songkran celebration, because it allows students to honor our professors and it allows our professors to honor the students,” said Annie Shideler, president of the Graduate Student Nurses Organization.  “It’s a very specific space that you do that in. It’s a nice way to connect outside the classroom."

Thai dancers led faculty, staff and students in a parade around the room, while musicians from the Wat Dhammaram Thai Buddhist Temple played on a Thai zither, drums and an intricately-decorated xylophone, called a ranaad. An array of colorful umbrellas fanned out in front of the musicians. Attendees enjoyed egg rolls, fish cakes, pad Thai, fried rice, dumplings, and a dessert of mangoes and sticky rice.