Bouncing Back – meet some of Cambridge’s cultural societies post-Covid

Bollywood club nights, food tastings, Wafflemas, and more…


It’s no secret that the best-laid plans Cambridge committees were massively disrupted by Covid over the last year and a half. In the first part of this series in which we’ll be rounding up how our favourite Cambridge societies have been impacted by the pandemic, we spoke to five cultural societies about what they’re most excited about post-Covid.

Cultural societies can be a fantastic way to connect with your roots in an alien place, bond with others, explore cultural foods together, and celebrate important dates and occasions. The five listed below are just a sample of the many cultural societies Cambridge has on offer, and they’re all excited for new recruits!

1) CU India Society

Current president Basma Khan and ex-president Nishant Saxena share that pre-Covid social events involved regular Bollywood club nights, cocktail nights, chai, and chaat socials.

The society enabled members to make “their closest friends,” “embrace Indian culture in many ways,” and have “famous speakers like mathematician Anand Kumar talk at the Union.”

The biggest calendar events pre-Covid included the 350-attendee India Soc Ball in London and a May Week garden party. In the first few weeks of Michaelmas 2020 (before the lockdown) they held a cocktail night, family bowling, and chai brunch.

(Photo credits: CU India society on Instagram)

When restricted to purely online capabilities, they kept the momentum going via quizzes, movie nights, escape rooms, cook-alongs, a mental health talk, and a British Raj series.

As restrictions eased in Easter 2020, they held a massively successful garden party offering a tantalizing teaser of what they have planned for the upcoming term.

Their famous club and cocktail nights will be back in full swing and their annual ball is forecasted to be the most spectacular yet. As Basma put it: “Well-known Indian figures will be speaking, welfare checkups will continue and we’ll keep thinking of new fun events!”

A freshers’ Zoom on 16th September will be announced soon and Cantabs are advised to look out for ticket releases in early September (keep an eye on their Instagram).

2) CU Belgian Society

When asked about the effect of lockdown on the society’s term card, social secretary Guillaume Bastos Martin shared that, tragically, they “couldn’t get the committee to make 500 waffles in someone’s gyp.” Owing to this minor logistical snag, the society’s biggest event ‘Wafflemas’ had to be cancelled in Michaelmas 2020.

Nonetheless, the versatile society persisted via online quizzes, Zoom speakers events (featuring Philippe Lamberts MEP), game nights, and the platform Wonder. In Easter 2021, they ran in-person pub events to “share Belgian beer and good times.”

(Photo credits: CU Belgian society on Facebook)

This Michaelmas, they hope to run Wafflemas and “perhaps some sort of BeerFest in October.” The society is not just open to those with links to Belgium, but very welcoming to “anyone who simply likes good company and a relaxed, fun setting.”

Besides sharing beer, chocolate, and other typically Belgian delicacies, the society provides informal networking. Flemish, French, and German speakers are encouraged to practice but all events are held in English and so are open to everyone at the university!

3) CU Malaysia and Singapore Association

Although they nimbly adapted to Covid via collaborations with other societies, online speed friending events, sponsoring small group meals in both Singapore and Cambridge, online games nights, and straddling both timezones, CUMSA is thrilled to return to bigger and better in-person events.

In 2019, they organized SingFest, a cultural festival that publicity secretary Chunran Xu described as “involving homemade Singaporean food, traditional games, and music by our local artistes.”

(Photo credits: Chunran Xu)

The past year has taught this society the value of small group events and they will try to retain some of that moving forward. However, with restrictions relaxing, they plan to progress to exciting (but cautiously executed) in-person events including formals.

Not only does the society aim to “provide to Singaporeans some form of familiarity in a place thousands of miles from home” but also to share Singaporean culture with the wider university community.

Freshers can look forward to meeting new people and a host of events to help them settle in. Watch their Instagram page and keep an eye on their upcoming Michaelmas term card!

4) The Cambridge Majlis

Historically, this South Asia political discussion and debate society dates back to the freedom struggles of South Asian countries and has involved famous figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru (alumnus of Trinity College and the first Prime Minister of post-colonial India).

The very word ‘Majlis’ is Persian for a gathering or assembly of common interest groups and so the society was “extremely frustrated” (in the words of president Sara Saloo) by the inability to hold in-person gatherings.

Nonetheless, they were able to hold well-attended virtual events on highly topical subjects – highlights included a debate on colourism in South Asian communities and a talk by Pawan Khera (a senior leader of the Indian National Congress) on Indian Prime Minister Modi’s highly controversial Farm Laws.

(Photo credits: The Cambridge Majlis on Facebook)

For the upcoming term, the Majlis aims not just to revitalize their signature in-person debates but also to hold socials and focus on archival work unearthing the rich history of the society.

The lineup of debates and panel talks promises to be “excellent,” featuring “the likes of Dr Shashi Tharoor as well as other leading academics and politicians.”

5) CU Australian and New Zealand Society

When asked about the differences between Aussie/Kiwi and UK culture, vice president Natasha Huang shared that “it’s a bit disorienting knowing how similar it is but also not completely the same” and that British humour and shop names can require a little getting used to.

Describing CUANZS as “an open society for Aussies, Kiwis, and friends featuring current undergrad/postgrad students and alumni,” Natasha admits that although they “couldn’t run many events during Covid times” they have “super exciting reopening plans for Michaelmas.”

 

(Photo credits: Natasha Huang)Pre-Covid highlights included regular pub nights, dinners, formals, swaps, and events sponsored by McKinsey. The CUANZ Annual Gala Dinner was a memorable tradition, even attended by ex Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2019.

The society has an active social media presence via a Facebook page and a welcoming and supportive Facebook group that you don’t need to be Aussie or Kiwi to join. Keep checking in for updates!

Regardless of cultural background, feel free to come along if you’re curious and excited to share food, culture, and good times! Check out other cultural societies, such as CU Anglo-Japanese society, CU East African society, Cantabulgarians, and many many more at the Cambridge Student Union directory.

Featured image credits: Basma Khan, CUANZ on Facebook, the Cambridge Majilis on Facebook and Chunran Xu.

 

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