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Cherry Blossom Festivals Mean First Picnics of Spring

What comes up in your mind when you think of spring? For me, a South Korean, it's cherry blossoms.

Many streets in South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan burst into bright pink and white blossoms each spring. In Seoul, cherry-blossom time is festival time, as people pour into the streets to celebrate the full blooms. People celebrate by bringing street food to picnics along the Han River in South Korea's capital, are common for one week.

For university students in South Korea, the joke is that cherry blossoms mean midterms because exams start when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. They start studying when the blooms first appear.

Cherry Blossoms at Sookmyung Women's University, Seoul, South Korea
Cherry Blossoms at Sookmyung Women's University, Seoul, South Korea


“It is really sad how I have less and less time to enjoy the cherry blossoms now that midterms are just around the corner," said Chaerim Kim, a senior at Sookmyung Women’s University in South Korea.

In Japan, cherry-blossom festivals, called "hanami," also include picnics, often in cemeteries under bowing trees. Hanami generally indicates cherry blossom viewing. People bring home-cooked meals, make barbecue or buy take-out food to mark the occasion. In areas with lots of cherry blossoms, there's fierce competition about where to celebrate, according to About Travel. Chefs incorporate cherry blossoms into their seasonal dishes and desserts, like cherry-blossom soups and ice cream.

Sake, the popular Japanese rice wine made by fermented rice, also gets into the spirit of the season. Sake flavored with cherry blossoms is a wonderful spring treat in Japan, according to Kyotofoodie.

Since the early 1900s, Asian ambassadors have gifted the U.S. with those cherry trees, which line the Potomac and Anacostia rivers in Washington where Americans have picnics. Besides Washington, Baltimore and the Eastern seaboard, cherry blossom festivals are also celebrated in the west and south.

For those who don't know where to go to enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms, here are some suggestions for cherry blossom festivals in the United States.

Here we go!

East


Washington, D.C.

Each spring, more than 1.5 million people head to nation’s capital to see beautiful and fragrant Japanese cherry blossoms. Washington, D.C. hosts the largest cherry blossom festival in the United States, called the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It takes place in late March or early April every year and it celebrates the 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. in 1912, according to the National Cherry Blossom Festival's website.

The festival spans four weeks and is enjoyed by more than 1.5 million people. This year, the weather in Washington had been unusually warm and the festival began five days early on March 15.

Then, Stella hit.



Snowstorm Stella hit Washington, D.C. March 14 a day before the festival kicked off. The National Park Service announced on March 15 that surviving blooms are expected to peak between March 19 and 22, but fewer blossoms will burst because of the recent cold temperatures.

New York City



New York also has beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. One of the most famous and largest cherry blossom festivals in New York is Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, offering over 60 events and performances that celebrate traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.

There will be a Japanese tea room, an art gallery, a "flea" market -- or a market that sells secondhand goods outdoors -- and fun entertainment like taiko drumming, cosplay actors, samurai sword masters, J-rock bands, stand-up comics and dance parties, according to Time Out.

Sakura Matsuri is the weekend of April 29-30. A daily ticket cost $25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors, free for children under 12.

Philadelphia, PA



In 1926, Japan gifted Philadelphia 1,600 cherry trees in honor of the 150th anniversary of American independence. To commemorate the international friendship with Japan, Philadelphia celebrates the beautiful blossoms and Japanese culture by holding the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. The festival is held for one week each spring, and this year's festival will be on April 1 to 9, according to the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival's website.

West


San Francisco



San Francisco hosts the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, the second-largest cherry blossom festival in the United States. Each year, over 200,000 people visit this festival to see the beautiful cherry blossom with the grace of the Japanese culture, according to the festival's website.

Visitors can participate in Japanese cultural programs like Japanese doll-making martial arts.

The festival will be held April 8-9 and April 15-16 in San Francisco’s Japantown, one of the only three remaining Japantowns in the United States, according to Travel Translated by Culture.

Seattle, WA



Seattle was also gifted 1,000 cherry trees by the Japanese Prime Minister 40 years ago in celebration of the nation’s 200th anniversary. Seattle reciprocated by holding its Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival.

The festival explores Japanese culture through traditional games, learning how to write shodo, orJapanese calligraphy, and trying on kimono and yukata, traditional Japanese robes.

The festival is April 21-23.

South


Macon, GA



The International Cherry Blossom Festival is held every spring in Macon, Georgia. According to Travel Translated by Culture, Macon is originally a sleepy southern town, but becomes a fabulous cherry blossom city each spring as over 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory.

Unlike the other cherry blossom festivals, International Cherry Blossom Festival is not associated with Japan or Japanese culture. It is more like a state fair. The festival offers various events such as animal shows, concerts, galas, fair rides, and bus tours along scenic cherry blossom trails. The festival is held for 10 days every year, this year from March 24 to April 2.

Nashville, TN

The Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival was started in 2009 by planting the first 100 of 1,000 cherry trees at Nashville Public Square. The mission of the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival Committee is to plant 100 cherry trees each year until 1,000 are planted. So far, 800 cherry blossom tress have been planted throughout the city.

The festival is an annual celebration of spring and Japanese culture, and it offers various fun events such as a cosplay contest, parades, and Sumo Suit Wrestling. This year, the festival is scheduled for April 8 on the Nashville Public Square.

Where is your favorite place to celebrate cherry blossoms? Please leave a comment here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

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15 cheapest US universities for international students

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Yahoo!Finance has compiled a list of the 15 cheapest U.S. universities for international students.

Among them: Arizona State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Michigan State University.

Read the list here. (March 2024)

Studying STEM? International students have funding options

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US News & World Report takes a look at funding options for international students pursuing STEM degrees in the U.S.

The article explains the different kinds of scholarships and grants and offers tips on getting part-time jobs and private student loans. Read the full story here. (March 2024)

US campuses are battlegrounds in free speech debate

Students hold up a photo of University of Southern California 2024 valedictorian Asna Tabassum in protest to her canceled commencement speech on the campus of University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, April 18, 2024.
Students hold up a photo of University of Southern California 2024 valedictorian Asna Tabassum in protest to her canceled commencement speech on the campus of University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, April 18, 2024.

This week the University of Southern California canceled the graduation speech of its senior class valedictorian at a time when there is a growing debate over the limits of free speech on American college campuses.

USC’s Asna Tabas­sum, a Muslim biomedical engineer major, was selected from among 100 outstanding students to address the graduating class of 2024 this May. However, the school withdrew the invitation for her to speak at the graduation ceremony citing safety concerns.

Tabassum denounced the decision, which she attributed to her public support for Palestinian human rights. She said it is part of “a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice.”

Students carrying signs protest a canceled commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians on the campus of University of Southern California, April 18, 2024.
Students carrying signs protest a canceled commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians on the campus of University of Southern California, April 18, 2024.

The school maintains it is a safety issue, not about free speech. School officials say they received an alarming number of violent threats after selecting her as speaker.

USC is one of many American universities that have struggled with policies over free speech and campus protest since October’s Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the continuing fighting in Gaza. After weeks or months of on-campus protests and rallies, schools have been taking more forceful action to punish protesters who administrators say have become disruptive.

On Thursday at Columbia University in New York, police arrested more than 100 students who had gathered on campus for pro-Palestinian protests. The school’s dean wrote that the protesters had been told several times that they were violating university policies and would be suspended. The students say they were exercising their free speech rights.

At Washington’s American University, protests in all campus buildings have been banned by the school’s president since January. Under the new policy, students may not hold rallies, engage in silent protests or place posters in any campus building.

Protests and safety

University students have a long history of engaging in political activism. From the Vietnam War to abortion rights, universities have played a key role in American political debates.

However, students now say that schools like AU with a long-standing protest culture are silencing protesters with new rules.

Arusa Islam, American University student body president-elect and current vice president, says the policies are preventing an open discussion about U.S. foreign policy.

“Indoor protesting was never a problem, it was never an issue before October 7th,” Islam said. “Students were allowed to put up posters in buildings and students were allowed to have a silent protest.”

“And now we don’t have that right anymore,” she added. “We have been silenced and it is affecting us greatly.”

American University’s president, Sylvia Burwell, says the school’s new policies are intended to ensure that protests do not disrupt university activity.

Burwell also referred to recent events on campus that “made Jewish students feel unsafe and unwelcome.” She added, antisemitism is abhorrent, wrong, and will not be tolerated at American University.

While administrators insist that they are making narrow restrictions in the interests of providing an education, critics say the policies have a far-reaching effect.

At Cornell University, where new rules took effect in January, Claire Ting, the executive vice president of the Cornell Student Assembly, said the policies have had an unsettling effect on campus.

“The campus climate at Cornell has been tense surrounding free speech in recent times,” Ting emailed VOA.

Ting said that both students and faculty feel the policy has had chilling effects on free expression.

“Students report facing arbitrary, escalating punishment for violating the policy, with the policy itself lacking clear outlines for the consequences of civil disobedience,” she added.

In its new policy Cornell warns students that disciplinary action may be taken if protests impede people or traffic, damage school property or interfere with the school’s operations in any way.

In its campus-wide notice explaining the new guidelines, the school wrote that the new policy would ensure that expressive activity is allowed but must remain nonviolent.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also known as FIRE, has tracked free speech issues on American campuses.

FIRE and College Pulse have produced an annual survey, since 2022, ranking colleges based on their policies and what students say about the free speech climate on campus.

This year the group reported that “alarming” numbers of students say they self-censor or “find their administrations unclear” on free speech issues.

“College campuses have always been places where students have been unafraid to express themselves and with the recent Gaza conflict after the 10/7 attacks, it’s been very heated on both sides of this issue,” said Zach Greenberg, the senior program officer of FIRE.

Harvard ranked last in this year’s survey. FIRE said the school punished some professors and researchers over what they had said or written, and students reported a poor climate for free speech on campus.

The controversy came to Congress late last year, when Harvard’s president testified over complaints of widespread antisemitism.

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“I don’t think you’d find many students on campus right now that would say we are the model for flourishing free speech and ideas exchange in the country,” said J. Sellers Hill, president of Harvard’s school newspaper The Harvard Crimson.

“But I think you’ve really seen that be acknowledged by administrators and it seems to be something they are dedicated to taking on.”

As the head of The Harvard Crimson, Hill manages the paper’s 350 editors and 90 reporters, who’ve covered, in detail, the ongoing free speech/protests controversy and the resignation of former President Claudine Gay following her testimony to Congress.

“I think no one would dispute Harvard has work to do and progress to make,” Hill said. “I think it’s a tough sell, for me, that Harvard is uniquely in its own league in terms of intolerance of speech. That doesn’t square with what I have seen on our college campus or on other college campuses around the country. I think Harvard is held to a higher standard.”

Proposed settlement offered over financial aid allegations

FILE - The Yale University campus is in New Haven, Connecticut, on Dec. 4, 2023. A group of colleges and universities - including Yale - have agreed to settle allegations of deceptive deceptive financial aid tactics, according to a report published in The Hill.
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A group of U.S. colleges and universities have agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging deceptive financial aid tactics, according to a report published in The Hill.

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Universities in Middle East building research relationships with China  

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As China bolsters research relationships with universities in the Middle East, the United States has taken notice – especially when that research involves artificial intelligence.

Reporting for University World News, Yojana Sharma has the story. (March 2024)

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