The recent study by David Jamieson-Drake and Jiali Luo emphasises the benefits of interacting with international students while studying. One area, which was brought up in the study, was the role that cultural organisations and societies on campus have in initiating these interactions and forming relationships.
So we thought we would look at one such society which has a diverse membership and has been growing from strength to strength for a few years now – the Cuban Salsa Society at the University of Sussex. We spoke to the current President Darta Brikaine to find out a bit more about the society and how it has helped students from different countries make new friendships and feel more at home on campus.
Tell us a bit about your society. What kinds of activities or socials do you promote?
The overall aim of the society is to provide a fun and relaxed way for people of all abilities who share an interest to come together, learn Cuban Salsa and meet other people. We hold weekly lessons at the University, taught by a professional Cuban Salsa teacher alongside students like myself, as well as a few socials each term.
The lessons work as drop-in sessions so a person can just come along whenever he/she feels like learning the beautiful dance of Cuban Salsa (we also do Reggaeton, Merengue, Bachata, Mambo, Rumba, and Cha-cha-cha in our warm-ups) and having tons of fun! No former experience is required and the classes are divided into groups suitable for different levels.
We also organise socials at least twice a semester (that is, two in both 1st and 2nd teaching blocks) alongside three end-of-term meals that are held at the end of both semesters and end-of-year-assessment period. Socials are a fun way for people to come together, communicate, build friendly relationships and even further enhance students’ university experience outside the weekly society’s settings. Sometimes we do a theme – Cuban flag, Chinese New Year, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc. The night begins with a relaxed atmosphere for talking and ends with dancing.
What nationalities are represented in the society?
There is a huge diversity of nationalities represented in the society, to name a few, American, British, Bulgarian, German, Indonesian, Iranian, Japanese, Latvian, Spanish, Vietnamese, etc.
Why do you think the Cuban Salsa society has attracted so many different nationalities?
It doesn't matter what nationality you are to share the passion for dance. In more practical terms, the promotion and attraction of different nationalities happens in various ways. We have a social media platform on Facebook that is free for anyone to join. We take part in fairs and other events organised by the Students’ Union. Most of all, I guess, there is the word of mouth: Brighton is a very diverse city in itself and everyone seems to have a wide array of friends – it is great!
How do you promote diversity within the society?
We appreciate equality and diversity within the society. It is open to everyone. Once a person comes to a session, he/she realises that it is a very diverse and pleasant environment to be in – even the people teaching are nationally diverse, each from a different background (Cuban, Latvian, British and American). We do not put people into different boxes – we promote the society to everyone and if a person is happy to try it out, we are happy accept him/her (although we are intolerable to any form of discrimination coming from a member).
What does the society do to overcome any barriers in language or differences in cultures?
Usually language is not a huge issue, as international students who come to the UK to study have a good level of English. Differences in cultures can be avoidable through communication and mutual understanding. That is, different cultures and different individuals have different opinions on what can be considered, for example, appropriate distance between partners. No one should make the other feel uncomfortable.
What have you learned or how have you benefited from the society yourself?
I have learned a lot and greatly benefited from being a part of the society. The greatest thing has been the friends I have made. The university experience is so much more than just the degree, and getting involved with the Students’ Union has been one of the best things about it! I have also gained a lot of skills that will help me in my future development such as leadership, event organisation, teamwork, finance management, public speaking, etc. The society has thought me a great deal of how to work with other people – it is an awesome experience!
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