Students explore the culture of tattoos in this month’s ISSS Coffee Hour 


Thursday afternoon, students gathered at McMahon's ISSS Coffee Hour to learn about body art. Attendees were also able to create and use henna or other temporary tattoos.  Photos by Amanda Kilyk / The Daily Campus.

Thursday afternoon, students gathered at McMahon’s ISSS Coffee Hour to learn about body art. Attendees were also able to create and use henna or other temporary tattoos. Photos by Amanda Kilyk / The Daily Campus.

Eager students gathered Thursday in the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) Lounge awaiting the Coffee Hour event. Hosted by Ryan Haynes, this month’s presentation explored the culture and traditions behind tattoos.  

Haynes, a masters student in higher education student affairs, started the presentation with an open discussion on the common perceptions of tattoos in certain cultures around the world. According to Haynes, while many might believe the majority of cultures perceive tattoos as taboo or a sign of rebellion, others see it as a means of expression. One student gave insight that even in certain specific regions of China, the culture around tattoos can differ widely.  

Haynes also discussed the history of tattoos. Although they have an unknown origin, tattoos are older than some cultures, with the first tattoo found on a 5,300-year-old mummy from the Italian and Austrian Alps. There are over 30 methods for tattooing, and certain cultures use different styles and techniques for tattooing, such as the intricately patterned Tahitian style. Ryan noted that many Tahitian style tattoo artists believe only those of Tahitian decent should have that style of tattoo. They normally use a bamboo stick with a needle on the end, rather than the common tattoo gun many see today.  

Elshaimaa Ali, a masters student in applied genomics from Egypt, took over the presentation to discuss the history and style of henna tattoos. Ali explained that henna is normally used during celebrations, whether it be the start of a new year or even weddings, where both the bride and groom will receive henna tattoos. Henna can also be used as nail polish, hair dye and even to help soothe the skin as it contains medicinal properties.  

After the presentation, Haynes welcomed the audience to a “show and tell,” where students commented on their own tattoos or the presentation in general.  

Ben Sklansky, a first-semester freshman in the ACES program, commented about his experience with his own tattoos.  

“I don’t feel the need to explain my tattoos, the art of tattoos is all about interpretation,” Sklansky said. “I like to leave the interpretation to others.”  

“I didn’t realize that there are so many different styles of tattoos,” said Nikki Santillo, a first-semester sophomore nutritional sciences major. “I also found it interesting how in the Tahitian tribes they use bamboo sticks instead of a regular tattoo gun.” 

According to their website, ISSS’s goal is to support “the greater internationalization of UConn through the development and delivery of services and programs that help our international students, scholars, faculty and staff accomplish their academic and professional goals.” 

Previous Coffee Hours hosted by ISSS included discussions on places such as South Asia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Egypt and France. Besides tattoos and body art, there are a multitude of other traditions and cultures being explored in future months, such as a “Party In The USA” on Oct. 29. 

“I think the participation was superb, especially how students were able to share their experience with having a tattoo,” Nadine Boudisaa, the International Advisor for ISSS, said. 

“I think the main goal of the event—at least for us as the presenters—was to express the fact that tattoos are like our own canvas to share our story on our own skin and even if we don’t choose to write our own story, skin is beautiful no matter what,” Boudisaa said.   

If students would like to present at one of these coffee hours, they can contact Nadine Boudissa at   

Caroline LeCour is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at

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