The annual International Festival’s 50th anniversary celebration Wednesday at the Student Center represented 109 countries.
The event began with a flag parade of students dressed in their native cultural attire carrying the flags of their countries. Chancellor Rita Cheng joined the march with an American flag. After an opening ceremony, the food fair began with booths set up for students and community members to try foreign foods.
Cheng spoke at the opening ceremony, saying she and other university administrators were proud of the growing number of international students and staff.
City Councilwoman Corene McDaniel also attended the event in place of Mayor Joel Fritzler to officially recognize International Week for the city. She said International Week is important for the community as a whole rather than just the campus.
“It should be an opportunity to get to know these international students … and make them feel like they’re at home and know that there’s love and caring, not only on the campus, but also in the city of Carbondale,” she said.
McDaniel said she hopes the city’s support will encourage international students to venture off campus and explore the town.
The fact that the event is in its 50th year is a milestone in itself, she said, because programs come and go, but the international program has managed to last half a century. The event had its first year at the opening of the Student Center in 1962 and has been held in the building ever since.
Carla Coppi, director of International Programs and Services, said she realized the event was in its 50th year by accident. She said a student looking through old campus yearbooks found a paragraph stating the event was held in the opening year of the Student Center.
Coppi said there weren’t many changes to the program for its anniversary because it’s such a hallmark tradition. The students are also very busy, she said, so she’s proud that they’re able to put it together in the first place.
“I always say it’s amazing that they do this on top of being full-time students, having tests, studying all the time and working in their student worker jobs to be able to sit here and rehearse like they’ve done in the past two weeks,” Coppi said.
Delwar Hossain, a graduate student in journalism from Bangladesh, said this year was the first time Bangladesh students took part in the event. He said it was exciting for him because he got to exhibit his culture through the university.
“It’s a special day for SIU, a special day for international students, because we are kind of like ambassadors for our countries,” he said.
Adeleke Koleosho, a senior from Chicago studying electrical engineering technology, said while it wasn’t his first year participating in the event, it was the first time he planned it as the vice president of African Student Council. He said as a first generation American from Nigeria, he thinks the event is important because a lot of people don’t know about other countries and cultures.
“We try to inform students on campus about our culture,” Koleosho said.
Students and community members said they found the event to be educational.
Derrick Haan, a senior from Lansing studying pre-med, said he attended the fair because he’s been getting involved with the international community a lot in the past year and has made a lot of friends. He said he’s in a Bible study group with international students through the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
“I guess it’s just good for people to have a chance to try other foods and just experience other cultures,” Haan said. “A lot of people here probably won’t have a chance to visit most of these countries and meet people.”
Todd Epps, a Carbondale resident and SIU alumnus, said he came to the festival because he likes trying new foods and learning about different cultures.
Coppi said the international students began planning for the event back in September and spent the past couple of weeks preparing the menu for the fair and for the grand finale show, which will be Friday at the Student Center.
She said the event receives some funding from the Undergraduate Student Government and normally costs around $8,000. This year, she said, the event received some private donations from businesses in the area. Normally the event sells between 10,000 and 12,000 tickets at 50 cents a piece, and the money is given to the student councils that participate in the food fair, Coppi said.
She said the event is important because it’s like a passport to the world without leaving the county. Participants get to taste, hear and feel cultures from around the world, Coppi said.
“It’s perhaps naïve and idealistic, but I think it’s the path to world peace when you learn about other cultures,” she said.