UniHomes Student Competition: Cultivating Student Cultural Interests

Artwork by Shafia Montaleb

Written by Megan Evans

Back in November, the student website UniHomes, which promotes a whole host of housing listings across Cardiff, and other student cities across the UK, decided to host a competition which allowed students to engage with the brand, and inject a buzz during the uncertainty of the climate in which we are still facing daily.

The university culture that encompasses so much vibrant energy and excitement, particularly for freshers who are new to the city and experiencing the changes from home life with parents, to becoming a fully fledged adult, has been held at a standstill, so the need to brighten up days is much higher than usual. With mental health plummeting due to students being stuck within accommodation for various reasons ranging from online zoom calls taking over from in person lectures, to isolating from the virus, campaigns have been organised to engage with students and help with livelihoods around campus.

Recently, a campaign was held called #DonutFear, where 700 Krispy Kreme doughnuts were delivered to the student halls, created a positive talking point for mental health through charities such as Student Minds.

This lead on to the idea of #Pay BucketList, which was a concept that UniHomes has explicitly mentioned as  ‘a well loved idea and concept of making people’s dreams a reality’, and giving students the opportunity to do something that they’ve always wanted to do, and making this happen for them. The competition entry requirements were very straight forward: like the post, mentioning in the comments something small or large that they’ve always wanted to do, with the aim of making these dreams a reality. There were over 3500 entries to this competition, so they decided to pull out a couple of runners up alongside the main prize, in order to keep the general satisfaction for students as high as possible. 

It was announced on Friday the 13th, that Izzie from Cardiff University had won the competition, where she decided to undertake dog sledding in Canada, with a plus one. This also very nicely coincided with #WorldKindnessDay as well, which meant that this prize really spread a lot more love than it had bargained for. An iVan perched up outside the university halls of residence with the announcement video that had been put together, and accompanied by extremely loud music. Then they had 6 Siberian Huskies walking towards the van which ‘mesmerised’ Izzie. The dog handlers attached a ‘mushing belt’ to her waist, so that she could then take the dogs for a walk around the lovely city of Cardiff. The video can be watched here.

Izzie told Quench “I wanted to go to Canada, as I wanted to do something a bit different… and Snow Dogs is my favourite Disney film!”.

A little background of Canada, and why it was a brilliant locational choice

Canada is well-known for its exquisite cultural affluences, and a popular hotspot for many students and travellers across the world. Canada is such a multicultural country, as its culture is mixed with a combination of British, French and American influences, which adds something different to the cultural life of filmmaking, writing, cooking and sport, for example.

It has many modern and multicultural cities with their own distinct personalities, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, as they highlight the different aspects of Canada such as its maritime culture and their mountainous landscapes and French cultural history. Niagara Falls within Ontario is one of the best known in the world, due to its natural beauty, and Ottawa known as ‘the cultured capital’ through its rich ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. It is also emerging as a cosmopolitan centre, the second largest destination for immigration.

There are not many countries that have the natural wonders that Canada has to offer, with its mountain ranges and lakes, arctic lands and desert, it’s multitude of scenic routes drives this as such a perfect location for students to enjoy.

It has a host of exciting festivals and cultural attractions that take place all through the year due to its home to a diverse range of cultures from all over the world. Not only do they celebrate Black History Month every February, as a chance of celebrating those individuals that have contributed positively to their economy over time and drawing attention to work within medicine, education and human rights, they also have influences from the indigenous people and celebrate the Canadian values including fairness, equality, inclusiveness and social justice.

Some popular events include the Celebration of Light, the largest fireworks competition in the world, Toronto International Film Festival, Quebec Winter Carnival, just to name a few.

There are many internationally known writers in Canada such as Margaret Atwood and L. M. Montgomery, several government funded art galleries in a host of its provinces, and lots of galleries that offer opportunities for new artists. It is also big on the performing arts field, as Canada has lots of theatres varied from musicals to smaller community based companies.

Image credit: Ted Eytan

Significance of the Siberian Husky to Canada’s culture

Canada is the home to the last true wilderness in the world, and a place given for this once-in-a-lifetime experience of dog sledding tours.

The huskies that Izzie received as part of her prize, reflect the significance of indigenous ancestry to it’s culture. Today’s Inuit dogs of Canada are the descendants of pre-colonial indigenous dogs, as proven through Brown et al’s 2013 case study. Since European colonization, however, inhabitants of the Arctic have adopted as sled dogs several additional breeds or types, including the Alaskan Husky Alaskan Malamute, and Siberian Husky. The Siberian Husky was originally developed by the Chukchi people of the Chukotka Peninsula in eastern Siberia and was brought to Nome, Alaska, in 1908 for sled-dog sport racing.

Dog sledding is still a prevalent part of Canada’s culture. There are lots of tours around Ontario, with its largest population in all of Canada’s provinces, which is predominately surrounded by lakes, rivers and streams. It is practiced in a large variety of its regions. The sled dogs are treated well, and a lot of the winter visitors can experience this unforgettable freedom by enjoying the frozen landscapes, with this unique transportation.

These experiences are extremely expensive, but absolutely magical, and play a key role in the expeditions that are held during the winter months.

Throughout history and regions in Canada and Greenland, dog-drawn carts and sleds have been used for various reasons, from transport in frosty rural regions to sled dog races and recreational sports.

Dog sledding isn’t just a sport, as the carting is a great alternative for sledding dogs to stay in shape.

Image: capture from UniHomes instagram, @unihomes

As UniHomes is a company based in Sheffield and in lockdown, they couldn’t travel and meet her properly to show this reveal off in as extravagant of a way as possible, however, with Cardiff coming out of lockdown within that time, allowed Izzie to meet the dogs in a safe manner.

Other winners were able to get fantastic prizes, despite not getting their bucket list wish. One wanted to go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef, but managed to get tickets to an aquarium at Sea Life in Birmingham, and another a safari with elephants, so is having one adopted via WWF.

It is truly wonderful that UniHomes allowed this competition to give opportunities such as this to students, and give that glimmer of hope when the world is not normal. Although travel has been heavily restricted, allowing for students the opportunity for a retreat to Canada, enables this nature for learning about new cultures and continuing the intrigue for discovery and cherishing these beautiful locations and experiences.