As fifth-grader Fatima Anees took a bite of the orange Indian chicken on her plate, her eyes bulged as the heat of the dish snarled her tongue and mouth in a wave of fire. After racing to the corner of the Muenster University Center ballroom, Fatima laughed between taking giant gulps of water.
This is just one of multiple surprises Fatima uncovered during the University of South Dakota’s annual Festival of Nations March 31, an event hosted by the International Students Club (ISC).
“You look around the room, and it is full of these different colors, different traditions,” Fatima said. “I love how all these countries join together to make the festival, and how the people who come really want to learn the traditions of other cultures.”
Fatima was joined at the festival by her mother, Musheera, a native of Egypt. A USD instructor and graduate student, Musheera said contributing everyday Egyptian dishes like falafel and fava beans to the festival allows others to reflect on the Egyptian culture.
“Food has a way of helping you stay connected to where you are from,” Anees said. “It is good to have this. Festival of Nations offers the experience to not only stay connected, but for people unfamiliar with other cultures to become connected, too.”
Not only did the Festival of Nations offer participants a taste of other cultures, but the event included 14 performances from around the world. USD graduate Kalpana Prajapati was one such performer, who danced to a Nepalese song in traditional sari and bangles.
“The song was all about Nepal, the beauty of my country,” Prajapati said. “It said things like how the mountains touching the sky, which lures the heavens to stay in Nepal. I wanted to dance to this because I think food and music are powerful ways to improve people’s idea of a culture, and it allows the culture to spread.”
Third year law student Janet Jassup attended the festival with two friends by her side. While she said she was not surprised by the number of international students on campus, she was surprised by the amount of participants, nearly 300, in attendance.
“To see people taking the time to come out and support and recognize the diversity we have on campus, this is a good thing,” Jassup said. “There is this realization that the world is full of people from many different cultural backgrounds which are waiting to be acknowledged and embraced.”
Ages at the festival ranged from toddlers waddling along in traditional garb to adults taking in the performances. Vermillion resident Laurie Brinkman said while the food from the African nations was her favorite, the representation from every country made the experience memorable.
“I came last year, and I just had to take my husband along this time,” said Brinkman, a USD graduate. “The festival is one of the best events at USD. The food, the performances, it just keeps you entertained. I even got to catch up with past instructors, so it brings the community together.”
Performances ranged from an electric piano performance international student Young Bin Son to a Native American circle dance that stretched throughout the entire ballroom. With such a variety of food, entertainment and culture, Carrie Prentice, USD associate professor in communications studies and ISC adviser, said the event was a direct reflection of the effort of the students in ISC.
“The Festival of Nations is important, because it isn’t just enough for people in the United States to just study people from other cultures without actually recognizing and embracing the differences,” Prentice said. “It is human for us to sit down and eat a meal together, and it is steps like this that can lead to peace in the world.”
Reach reporter Megan Card at Megan.Card@usd.edu.