The MUC Ballroom was filled with the sights, sounds and smells of countries from around the world Sunday night.
More than 320 students, faculty and community members attended the annual Festival of Nations this weekend, where cultures were shared through food, dance and song. 240 guests and roughly 80 volunteers were at the event. About 50 countries were represented with different types of food and five different groups performed cultural acts.
The event has been going on for about 20 years at USD.
“It’s hard to put an exact date on how long it’s been going on, we don’t know for sure,” said international student advisor Patrick Morrison. “Last year was CAGE’s first time doing this. Before it was just the International Club’s job. We handle some of the logistics of getting this put together, but the students are doing the cooking and performing, so it’s really a student held event.”
The event was originally created to raise money for a scholarship for international students.
“The idea started with the want to instigate a scholarship for international students,” said graduate student and vice president Naveen Rokkam. “There is no designated one other than ours. Recently the undergraduate scholarships are opening up to international students. But the money we raise out of this event goes toward the scholarship, not the club or the school.”
Rokkam said the International Club sees varied membership levels from year to year. This year the group has over 150 people involved.
Morrison said Festival of Nations is ultimately a way for international students to show their cultural identity.
“We have a pretty impressive group of international students, and until really this past year there wasn’t a way to express their cultural identity,” Morrison said. “That was really what was the factor that started this event 20 years ago. This is really the primary event for international students.”
Junior Raisul Rubel said student groups have been planning this event for about a month.
“This is our most important event for both the International Club and CAGE,” he said.
This annual event is a great facilitator in terms of meeting new people, Rubel said.
“I think that people will really be able to get a chance to meet people from different countries and learn about their culture and diversity,” he said.
Anyone who attends Festival of Nations for the first time should ask questions about the food they’re eating and the cultures they’re witnessing, Rokkam advised.
“I think if someone is coming to the first time for this event, go to all of the tables and try all of the different dishes and talk to the people,” he said. “Once you talk to people, you will realize that all of our cultures are connected at the core and there are a lot of connections you can make between cultures. By asking questions, you can learn a lot and gain a better cultural knowledge.”
Morrison said this event both encourages people to study at USD and go to other countries to study abroad.
“I think this helps advertise to international students because some schools don’t do anything like this,” he said. “I think for us this is really our premiere event, and we sell out tickets every year. I think it’s a great way to have domestic students interact with International students as well.”
Though the setup may be the same, every year has something different to offer.
“I would say that every year is different,” Rokkam said. “It’s not different because of the way we organize it, but because of the people that come to the event. It is people who make a difference, it is what I believe when it comes to these types of events. We have a new set of people, and I am excited to see the new dishes and events coming through.”
Morrison said that even though USD is in the middle of the country, he’s hoping that people realize there’s still a lot of diversity to be found.
“I hope that they take away that even though we are in the middle of the Midwest, we have an impressive cultural diversity here on campus,” he said. “We have over 230 international students and a lot of international faculty. We are really growing in diversity and I think that is something that needs to be celebrated.”