The wide line of students, chatting excitedly while they waited for free food from Tucanos Brazilian Grill, snaked through the dense vines and various tropical plants decorating the foyer of the Grande Ballroom. Volunteers with foot-tall parrots were sharing their colorful pets with patrons of all ages while music from the far corners of the world blended together in a cacophony of culture.
International Education Week officially started Saturday, Nov. 5, with the Miss United Nations event. However, the International Festival, growing in size over the years, is largely seen as the kickoff event for the week of global interaction put on by several UVU and community organizations.
An estimated 2,000 people joined the monumental festival Monday, Nov. 7, which included many children. Family participation was encouraged, but more than that, it was as if through participation in the event one became part of a new, global family. Going from booth to booth learning about different cultures was educational as well as an experience that almost instantly bonded the patrons and the booth workers.
The event was largely a student-driven production. As the Director of International Student Affairs Steve Crook put it, it was “the students’ baby.” Crook described the night as a positive experience for community members as well as the students involved.
“The whole point is to have this mixing of cultures, and to have the community of Orem experience these cultures,” Crook said. “The students are proud of their countries and are excited to share their culture. It’s a labor of love, really.”
The enthusiasm Crook spoke of was a powerful unifying force, particularly evident in the music and dance productions put on by groups of students from different countries. Members of the Samba group representing music and dance from Brazil, for example, were never on stage alone for very long. More often than not, they would invite people from the audience and from performing groups of other countries to dance with them on the stage. The fun-loving members of the performing group from Saudi Arabia were especially prone to joining whoever was on stage in dance, usually grinning from ear to ear.
According to Mohammed Shami, an international student from Saudi Arabia, this attitude of camaraderie is a common thread among international students at UVU. Shami spent some time in Washington D.C. before coming to Utah, and explained that, in general, people here are a lot more friendly and less “standoffish.” Tugging at his shirt, Shami explained that he would give it to anyone here, even though he had just met them.
“We are nice, and friendly,” Shami said. “It’s the golden rule, you know?”
At the Japanese booth, many people laughed as they played with traditional Japanese toys such as the kendama, trying to get a ball on a string into an attached cup. Tasuku Yamamoto, an 18-year old, has studied English as a second language for only a few months after traveling to the U.S. from his home in Ibaraki Japan. Smiling and laughing along with people trying out the toys at the booth, Yamamoto talked about how interesting it was for him to learn about other countries and share his own with others.
Jen Clark, a sophomore Communications major, likened this sharing to “travelling the world without a plane ticket.” Along with being invited on stage to dance with the Samba group, Clark and her friends enjoyed getting their pictures taken with people from many different cultures dressed in their traditional, and very unique clothing, like the Russians and the Saudi Arabians.
After seeing all of the work that was put in and experiencing the final result, Crook put it best when he said that the International Festival allowed all in attendance to experience the natural bond that humans share, despite the differences in our cultures throughout the world.
“We share a lot of the same challenges,” Crook said. “In the end, we are all more alike than different.”
For more information on the International Student Council, visit uvu.edu/iss/student_life/isc.html.
By Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager
Photos courtesy of Maria Corona