For the sixth time this fall, one small club has met virtually to discuss cultural similarities among one another, fostering a connection between a group of people over the internet.
The South Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab and North African Club at Long Beach State has held bi-monthly meetings over Zoom this semester.
Each session consists of six to seven members discussing a broad topic about their respective cultures. The conversations range from speaking about their favorite traditions and holidays to more serious issues about racism, microaggressions and media representation.
“We try to keep it balanced in terms of the energy,” Bahman Farihi, president and a fourth-year molecular cell biology major, said. “It’s important to have those hard discussions but we also want the club to be a place people feel comfortable in.”
In the most recent meeting on Nov. 18, the topic was food and each of the club’s four board members presented a slide highlighting their favorite cultural dishes.
“Food can show us a lot about our cultures, it goes beyond sustenance,” Farihi said. “It can tell us a lot about our traditions, our beliefs and our history.”
Farihi said that before the pandemic, their meetings weren’t as personal as they are now. The club formed in 2019 and for that first year, they were still figuring things out. They were struggling to grow but by the time they did, the school shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Farihi said it was hard for them to retain people during the transition to online. However, the discussions that come from these smaller groups have been more engaging, with every member contributing to the conversation equally.
“I really enjoyed gravitating to those smaller discussions because we are able to kind of get to know those members more,” Farihi said.
S.A.M.E.A.N. Club at CSULB was founded by Shaika Gautam, a fourth-year nursing major, who is now the club’s secretary and was the club president in 2019.
Gautam started the club because she said that she wanted to establish a cultural connection among students of S.A.M.E.A.N. backgrounds. She got the idea from a similar club she was part of in high school at Cleveland Charter High in Reseda.
Gautam said it’s not about the numbers, however the pandemic has affected the club’s recruitment. They could pitch themselves to potential new members during on-campus events, but doing so online was difficult because clubs are reliant on students to seek them out.
“It’s kind of out of our control in that situation,” Gautam said.
Now they reach out to people through word of mouth, encouraging members to invite friends and being more active on social media.
They also participate in virtual school events which included this fall’s Week of Welcome hosted by the Associated Students, Inc.
Through Week of Welcome, Sheila Hayati, a first-year applied math major, joined the club.
Hayati, a first-generation Persian American whose family is from Iran, wanted to make friends at CSULB but didn’t have many options to do so with the semester being online.
Hayati was surprised to discover the club through the virtual Week of Welcome because she didn’t think clubs like it existed.
“That’s a community I can actually relate to,” Hayati said.
Hayati said that she has enjoyed learning about the cultures of the club’s members and shared that she did not know much about Nepal and India until she joined the S.A.M.E.A.N. Club.
Being part of the club has also inspired her to learn more about her own culture.
Hayati said she has been talking to her parents more about their home country, Iran, and is inclined to improve her Farsi, the language mostly spoken there. She wants to read, write and speak it better.
Unlike the club’s board members who knew each other before the pandemic, Hayati has never met any of them in person. Her entire experience has been cultivated online but she said that she is amazed to find connection with people she only sees a couple of times a month.
“I feel like we have a bond even in such a short time,” Hayati said.
It has been interesting for Hayati, who believed making friends in college involve talking to people “over and over” until something develops. But she realizes the types of conversations she has with her club transcend the mundane day-to-day discussion among classmates.
“We go into a lot more depth which I think is why we get along so well or we understand each other a lot more, even though we are online,” Hayati said.