Junior Diana Johnsen said she smelled like oil and grease after a full day of chopping two cabbages, a bag of carrots and a chicken, cooking noodles and then wrapping 120 egg rolls with her mother.
But when she stood in a fluorescent purple sequin gown at the Festival of Nations Sunday night serving samples from the Philippines, you would have never guessed.
The festival, which sold out the more than 200 tickets moments before the doors opened at 6 p.m. in the Muenster University Center Ballroom, was full of colors like Johnsen’s gown, as well as music, dance, swords and balloons.
“I think it’s done pretty well, with the exception of the few kids running around, which is really crazy and the balloons,” Johnsen said. “The International Students Club, they’re working pretty hard a month in advance. We do a good job putting it together.”
The International Students Club has been hosting the event for more than 10 years.
Club president Qiang Wei, a graduate student from Xi’an, China, helped organize the event, along with decorating and cooking for the Chinese table. He said the event representing 26 nations, was a success.
The $1,300 raised from the event will go to support the University of South Dakota International Student Club’s activities as well as reimburse students who cooked or performed for the event. The festival is the club’s largest fundraiser. Tickets were $5 for students and $10 for adults.
Students had the opportunity to serve food from their countries and perform during the dinner — keeping the dinner guests entertained with music from Bollywood to Chinese love songs and sword to bamboo stick dancing.
“Our main thing is just to let campus and the community know how diverse this campus is,” club vice president and senior Max Grandi said. “It’s about as diverse as a small town — a small campus — can get. It’s amazing.”
Grandi said some left over funds from the festival could go towards establishing a scholarship.
Johnsen, who participated in the festival for the first time, said it’s a good time for college students to open their minds to other cultures — and taste them as well.
“So many people are turned off to trying something like foreign foods, so I was surprised how many people came up to my booth and were like, ‘I’ll try everything,'” she said.
Johnsen had postcards, money, pictures, a flag and a gown from the Philippines on her table shared with Ireland. The gown, like the one she wore, is called a Filipiniana dress.
“It’s just something you can wear to a special occasion or a wedding,” she said. “This is like what the younger generation would wear. The older generation would probably wear something called a Maria Clara and it’s made out of pineapple silk.”
Johnsen’s mother came from Iowa to help prepare and serve the food at the festival because she’s had experience with similar events at her own college.
“She had everything and just threw it at me and was like, ‘OK, go, I send you with these things,'” Johnsen said.
The two of them cut the 120 egg rolls in half and made four bags of noodles. Johnsen said she knew it was supposed to just be sample-sized servings, but with her mother helping put a little more on everyone’s plate, the portions were large enough that they were almost out of food by the end of the night.
With Ireland on the other half of Johnsen’s table, they swapped soda bread for egg rolls in between serving the crowd flowing around the room.
Peruvian potato pie, Turkish candy and Chinese spicy seaweed were just some of the other dishes students prepared.
Johnsen said they chose their dishes because they were easy to make.
“It’s kind of like everybody loves egg rolls, you can’t go wrong with them,” she said. “Filipino food is so close to Chinese food and everybody loves Chinese food, so it was kind of nice that my food was so in line with Chinese food.”
Even though she knew she’d have a night of homework and studying for a test after cooking and serving all day, Johnsen said she’d gladly do it all over again.
“It will affect people’s lives later on down the road, so it’s very important for people to know about other cultures and get an understanding of them. It’s important that they keep doing it every year,” Johnsen said.