They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. If the yearly tradition of food, flags and new friends at the University of South Dakota’s Festival of Nations is any indication, the phrase rings true.
The annual Festival of Nations, hosted by the International Students Club, features an array of exotic dishes cooked chiefly by international students.
While food is the focal point of the event, the evening also features traditional and contemporary performances by cooks and attendees, as well as displayed artifacts and traditional costumes.
Carolyn Prentice, a communications professor at USD who has advised the ISC for the past five years, called the festival a “happy occasion” and an important event for USD.
“It’s a celebration of the international and cultural diversity of USD,” Prentice said. “A lot of the time, we don’t recognize the diversity that we have, and that people come here from different lands.”
Last year, the Festival of Nations drew about 300 attendees; a diverse crowd of students, faculty and community members.
Prentice said the festival usually represents about 20 different countries, and many cooks will bring multiple dishes typical of their native land. Some of the most common dishes are from India, Africa and China, which Prentice attributes to large numbers of these nationalities on campus.
The cooks are mostly composed of international graduate and undergraduate students, but occasionally post-doctoral students and faculty members participate in cooking, Prentice said.
The event is all-you-can eat, but Prentice said there will be some form of “crowd control” to make sure the food does not run out before everyone in attendance manages to fill his or her plate.
Senior Jeanne Namugisha, president of the ISC, said the Festival of Nations is a cheap way for students to experience a range of cultures.
“I would highly recommend students go,” Namugisha said. “It’s a way to see the world, especially if you haven’t had chances to travel or you can’t study abroad. It’s important to learn about other cultures, and this is one way to do that.”
Namugisha said she will bring several African dishes — some Rwandan, some Congolese — and perform a cultural dance.
Vinu Balasubramanian, a P.h.D. student from India, said she would be cooking for the event.
“I have cooked for the past three years, and I won’t miss this time,” Balasubramanian said. “Every year something is new and exciting – new performances, new dishes, new costumes, new students to meet.”
For those less keen on exposing their palate to new tastes, there will be familiar dishes available as well.
“My husband and I will be bringing American food for anyone who is less adventurous, or wants to bring children,” Prentice said
Prentice expressed hope that students would attend, no matter how daring their food choices might be.
“Sitting down and eating together is sort of the first step toward peace and understanding,” she said. “My hope is that people will make some international friends.”
Prentice also said eating exotic food prepared by native chefs is a unique opportunity to get a taste of other cultures that may otherwise not be afforded to college students in the Midwest.
“We may have eaten at an Asian restaurant in town, but it’s really nothing like what is actually served in Asian homes,” Prentice said. “So we really get a feel for that, and appreciate the differences and the commonality that we have.”
The event is $7 for all students — college and K-12 — and $12 for the general public. Some of the proceeds from ticket sales will be going toward an international student scholarship hoping to total more than $2,000.