Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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SIU International Festival showcases a blend of global traditions

The+Sri+Lankan+Student+Association+performs+a+traditional+dance+at+the+International+Cultural+Show+at+the+Student+Center+Ballrooms+Feb.+9%2C+2024+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.+%0A%40SimShardPhotography+%0A
Simeon Hardley
The Sri Lankan Student Association performs a traditional dance at the International Cultural Show at the Student Center Ballrooms Feb. 9, 2024 in Carbondale, Illinois. @SimShardPhotography

In a harmonious celebration of diversity and unity, SIU hosted its annual International Festival, a week-long event featuring a vibrant parade of flags, a melting pot of international cuisines and cultural performances. 

The event, held under the theme “Promoting Diversity Through Unity,” brought together students from all corners of the globe to share their rich cultural backgrounds.

Yolina Lindquist, a Swiss dual-citizen and member of the German club, said, “We have a huge international student base, as well as an international teaching assistant population on campus, so I think it’s amazing to bring students together to embrace culture, language and ethnicity.” 

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She has attended the international festival for the past three years and has enjoyed the opportunity to walk in the flag parades and represent her own culture. In doing so, she has gotten to experience firsthand how much goes into preparing for a week of events as influential as this one. 

“Everyone has put in so much work. It’s very impressive how much they prepare for it. I think each group did an amazing job representing themselves,” Lindquist said.

The international parade of flags symbolized the global community on campus, providing an opportunity for students to connect, share, and celebrate their heritage. The sense of unity could be seen as students from various backgrounds walked side by side. 

Lindquist said, “I can share language and culture with the rest of the students that don’t have that same background through the events.”

One of the most popular events of the festival was the International Food Festival last Wednesday, where students and visitors alike embarked on a global culinary journey. 

Lindquist said, “How could we miss the best part of coming here? Going to the food festival and trying all of these foods.”

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Attendees got the opportunity to experience cultures and cuisine they were unfamiliar with, even if they were not personally involved with the RSOs.

Simone Elliot, a sophomore visiting the International Food Festival, said, “I have a lot of international friends, so it’s nice to just come out and show support for them and their RSOs.”

Connections were truly able to grow due to the occasion, as people collaborated to broaden their knowledge. 

“This event shows the diversity and community among students, allowing especially American students to connect with international students,” Elliot said.

She got foods from Sri Lanka, dumplings from China and a dessert from LASA (Latin American Student Association) at the Food Festival this year. 

Nepalese, Persian/Iranian, Chinese and Bangladeshi foods were also available for people to try. 

Chinthana Wimalasuriya, who was also visiting the food festival, said, “We need to try everything from different places. This is the one place where you can get a lot of everything.”

Taking advantage of this opportunity not only allowed individuals to broaden their culinary horizons but also served as a unique platform for attendees to engage with diverse cuisines, fostering a sense of unity among the community and different RSOs.

Keyla Aguilar originally came to the event because of work connections, but found the event had much to offer.

Aguilar said, “I work at the Sustainable Farm, and the Office of Sustainability and we’re composting at this event to reduce food waste.”

“I get a little bit of flavor from the students that go here. All the international students get to bring their flavors from home to students and faculty in the United States that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to try. I tried the chicken biryani for the first time today. I can say that I’ve had it now,” Aguilar said. 

Beyond the food festivities, the International Festival served as an educational platform, offering students and faculty a chance to experience and learn about cultures they may not be familiar with. 

The vibrant display of traditional dances and the showcase of diverse traditional clothing from various countries added a layer of cultural richness to the event. The rhythmic movements and colorful attire allowed participants to celebrate the unique cultural expressions of the global community. 

During the Cultural Show on Friday, members of the Nepalese Student Association, including Bristi Poudel and Rushma Baskota, got to showcase both traditional and modern Nepali dance forms through their performance.

Poudel said, “Nepal is a very small country and most people don’t know a lot of things about us. So we want to show that it’s diverse in its cultures, languages and everything, despite its size.”

She hopes their performance was able to show the audience aspects of their broad heritage. 

“We speak different types of language, and the attire that we are wearing also represents one of the ethnic community groups of our country,” Poudel said. 

Being a part of the RSO has been highly beneficial for these students, they said. They have gained new connections with people of the same cultural background while living in an entirely different country.

“The good thing about the Nepalese Student Association is, we are a group of Nepali students. Even though we belong to different parts of Nepal, wherever we are from, we unite together,” Poudel said.

The group had to get together every evening for weeks to practice, choosing songs and attire that would work best for the dance. 

Baskota said, “There are four songs that had to fit one dress. We had to incorporate the dress into each part of the show.”

They included both older songs and more current songs, sharing their country’s past and present musical interests. 

“These are the types of songs and the music that is played in every festival, and everything that we do in our country. We are used to this music and dance.” 

To members of the performing RSOs, cultural music, clothing and dances are highly significant to each of their individual countries. Most have grown up learning these traditions, and they are reminded of their families and homes by getting to perform. 

Bhagya Jayantha was one of the dancers who performed to represent the Sri Lankan Student Association. He has been practicing this style of dance for more than ten years. 

Jayantha said, “This is a traditional dance that we have, so mostly in school we will practice for the first time, and then some of them choose to develop it more.”

Participants spent weeks on costumes and practices. 

“We acquired the clothes and other things we needed from whatever stores we could find in Carbondale. Then, we prepared it to look exactly right, comparing it with models,” Jayantha said.

Jayantha and the team’s dedication to authenticity and detail ensured that every aspect of their traditional attire mirrored the rich cultural heritage they aimed to showcase. 

“We have students from all over the world at this show, and we represent one country, Sri Lanka, as well. We have a community over here [in the U.S.]. So I think it’s important that we feel that we have some value and are acknowledged to be a part of SIU.”

For many international students and faculty, the festival provided more than just a celebration – it offered a sense of belonging and a portion of home.    

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