One of the fun things of moving to a new school is that you get to learn a whole new set of traditions. For example, while there are three things every Harvard student is supposed to do before graduating, there are ninety-nine that UBC undergrads are supposed to do.
Anyway, UBC is big. As in really big. As in 55,000 students (65,000 if you include our Okanagan campus). For comparison, Harvard has about 22,000 (according to here). Many of the big US schools aren't this big. University of Michigan and UCLA have 45,000, Berkeley has 43,000; but there are some that are even bigger. The University of Central Florida has 66,000 students, Texas A&M has about 65,000, and Ohio State has about 60,000.
Anyway, I digress (because I was kind of curious how big some of those schools were). One relatively new tradition is the Harvest Feastival -- yes, that's spelled correctly. It's basically a fall celebration that started about three years ago and appears to be open to faculty, staff, and students. It's a seasonal dinner with some light programming and multiple performances around campus afterwards. The faculty and staff relocation office reserved a table for new arrivals, which is how I found out about this. Sounded like a good time and better food than my pre-kitchen-arrival self was likely to make. I was glad I went.
Imagine almost 2000 people seated under a rather large tent (because Vancouver). It was roughly 40 tables of 24 each and our table was all relatively recently arrived faculty and staff -- I was seated across from two postdocs in CS, one a woman who got her PhD at CMU and joined UBC a year ago and the other a man who'd just arrived from his PhD in Korea about four weeks ago.
There were a pair of MCs who engaged the assembled crowd in various "games" and announcements. The meal was outstanding -- lines of servers approached each table alternating two different dishes for each course: salad, mains, and dessert. Everything served was relatively local, a lot of it from our very own UBC farm (located just a block or two from my apartment). I was somewhat stunned to imagine just how one prepares risotto for 2000, but indeed, the vegetarian main course was a butternut risotto, served in butternut halves -- very tasty! (The non-vegetarian main was salmon, because Vancouver). The dessert courses were spectacular apple fritters and chocolate and pumpkin cake. (The fritters were vastly superior to the cake, but the cake was actually pretty darned good.)
On the tables we had menus and also a bit of an advertisement for two faculty/staff singing opportunities -- drop-in choir, and a slightly more serious choir. Kind of looked like fun. I couldn't quite figure out why the words to Mamma Mia were printed on the back, but I thought that perhaps it was just supposed to give us a sense of the kinds of stuff they sang? Not exactly...they were there so we could ALL participate in the after dinner sing-along. So yeah, we got to hear 2000 sing Mamma Mia -- it was pretty awesome.
And then, of course, we were serenaded by the UBC Thunderbird Marching Band gig band. It was a small ensemble (maybe 20), but reminded me of many a similar gig played when I was a young Harvard bandie. Best of all, they introduced the "chef's parade" whereby all the chefs who'd produced dinner for 2000 paraded around the tent to a standing ovation. It was really lovely (and well deserved).
So, that's the Harvest Feastival UBC style -- I might have to make this an annual event.