Swat Thai and i20 Celebrate Thai New Year

On Friday, April 12, students gathered outside the InterCenter (IC) to play trivia, participate in water games, and enjoy Thai food to celebrate Songkran — Thai New Year — for an event held by Swat Thai and i20 Swarthmore International Club. 

Songkran occurs from April 13 to April 15 annually and celebrates the sun’s passage into the Aries constellation. During the holiday period, celebrants spend time with family and show their reverence for their ancestors. 

At the beginning of the event, students participated in a trivia water game inspired by water festivals that occur during Songkran. During the festivals, participants throw or shoot water at one another, symbolizing “cleansing, reverence, and good fortune.” 

Larissa Tolentino ’24, a participant in the water trivia game, emphasized the community bonding between students at the event.

“The water fight was really fun. I got to meet a lot of underclassmen — i20 members as well — which is really cool,” she said. “None of us knew a lot of answers about Thai culture and the festival’s meaning; it was a collective experience.”

Tolentino shared her reasons for attending and discussed how she learned more about Thai culture from the event. 

“My motivation was the food, but I have been to the other Swat Thai events and I enjoyed them, not only the snacking part of it, but also the quizzes and the games that they did,” she said. “It was cool because I’ve never celebrated Songkran before, but I’ve seen it on Instagram and I know what it is symbolically.”

Tolentino added that a highlight of the event was its welcoming and joyous atmosphere. 

“I was impressed by how colorful everything was because during other big cultural holidays like Chinese New Year, it’s still cold. But Songkran is in April and it was a really warm day. Everyone was really happy, the game was very colorful — it was a fun Friday afternoon.”

Co-President and Co-Founder of Swat Thai Matthew Fleming ’27 explained the personal significance of the Songkran event to him.

“Being Thai is a big part of my identity,” he said. “My mom grew up in Thailand until she was thirteen. Her entire family’s there, so we go there every couple of years. Thai is my first language, and I don’t want to lose that part of my identity. I thought creating a Thai club [and celebrating Songkran] would be a great idea.” 

Fleming shared that the most gratifying part of running the event to him was seeing the long line of people waiting for Thai food. 

“I think Thai food is a huge thing for Thailand — when people think of Thailand, they think of Thai food.”

Frankie Li ’26 emphasized his appreciation for the diversity of culture that the event brought to campus. 

“I’m really happy to see people celebrate Thai New Year and different cultures and festivals here on campus because we are a small community,” he said. “I appreciate that different affinity groups bring their own cultures to the campus so that I can experience different kinds of cultures and traditions here at Swarthmore without traveling around the world.” 

Li added that he was impressed by the event being outdoors and the quality of the food.

“This was my first outdoor event this semester, and the weather was pretty warm,” he said. “The food was actually much better than my expectations — I expected to have good Thai food, but I’d say it was really authentic and some of the best Thai food I’ve ever tasted in the U.S.” 

Fleming stated that although it started to rain during the event, organizers of the event and attendees were able to adapt quickly. 

“We were set up outside, but everyone was super helpful. Everybody just started grabbing all the different food trays and tables and we moved inside pretty quickly,” he said. 

Tolentino hopes to see more collaboration between Swat Thai and other affinity groups in the future. 

“I would love to see collaboration with other parts of campus. Right now, it’s great because there are a lot of other cultural clubs that do similar things, but I would love to see a bigger Southeast Asian scene,” she said. 

When asked about his hopes for future Swat Thai events, Fleming emphasized educating others on campus about Thai culture and shared what students can do to get involved with the organization. Students can follow Swat Thai on Instagram at @swat_thai to be updated about events and join the mailing list. The club will be more active, with regular meeting times, next fall when Co-President Panhavoan Reth ’25 returns from study abroad. 

“I want more people to join the club [and] come to the events. I think teaching people about Thailand’s culture and helping them appreciate it is what I would want to do,” Fleming said.

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