Last Saturday, students from all over the world came together to represent over 50 countries in International Fair 2015 (colloquially “I-Fair”), an annual fair that has been showcasing food, culture and entertainment from around the world for 34 years.
International Fair officially commenced Saturday afternoon in Kresge with the annual Flag Parade, in which students from around the world represented their respective countries by carrying their national flags and welcoming students to I-Fair 2015. While the Flag Parade consisted mainly of international students, some American-born students used participation in the Flag Parade and in I-Fair as a way to explore their cultural roots.
“When I found out I was going to represent the Philippines, I asked my mom to send any [traditional garment],” said sophomore Casie Panganiban. “She sent me this laced-shirt [made of] coconut and banana fibers [and] a María Clara gown, the traditional dress [worn] for weddings or birthday parties. It was my great aunt’s dress and she was really happy to send it.”
Although Panganiban has spent her entire life in the United States, the opportunity she had to represent her cultural background in the Flag Parade brought her closer to her heritage.
“For me, being a U.S. citizen but of Filipino heritage, I was especially excited because I was never given an honor like that before. It was a very proud moment for me and my friends and my family.”
After the Flag Parade came the Cultural Showcase, a two-hour presentation in which students exhibited both traditional and contemporary performances from their native cultures. The acts in the showcase ranged from traditional Guzheng playing to modern b-boying, and the audience responded well to every performance. Many campus cultural clubs who participated in the showcase sought to enlighten students on the rich traditions of their respective cultures, and the audience responded warmly to their enriching performances.
“I got a lot of feedback [from people] saying they enjoyed the dance. But at the same time, the movement was very distinct … They just remember it better [since] the movement is very different from western dance,” said sophomore Michiko Li, who, with Japanese Club, performed a short series of traditional folk dances. For many cultural clubs, one particular challenge they faced was condensing their traditional performance into a compelling and interesting presentation while also maintaining the performance’s cultural context and authenticity.
“We started practicing two weeks ahead of the I-Fair cultural showcase. While I was choreographing, I tried to make [the dance] easy but also show the traditional movements I learned in Japan,” recounted Li.
After the Cultural Showcase ended, the culture booths outside of Kresge and Harbach opened to let the campus cultural clubs inform the audience about other cultures in greater depth. In the past, running the booths tended to be rather hectic due to some organizational issues. But this year, International Club, which orchestrates I-Fair, sought to make the operation more efficient and better organized.
“We want to improve; we want to make it an enjoyable experience and an easy experience for everyone that comes to I-Fair,” said freshman Monica Weller, an executive member of I-Fair’s Booths Committee.
In the past, I-Fair combined Booths with the International Food Fair, which proved to be rather chaotic and inefficient. This year, I-Fair separated the two events, mainly to ease the jobs of participating cultural clubs.
“These club members and committee members and organizations are doing various things. They might be putting on a show and a dance as well as cooking food as well as [tabling] a booth, and oftentimes it’s the same members going from one thing to another,” said Weller. “For them to have it spread out a bit more, they could focus on one task rather than multitasking the entire time.”
The final event of I-Fair was the International Food Fair, held in the Oak Room, during which many cultural clubs prepared traditional foods for the Knox campus. Many servers enjoyed sharing their cultural cuisines with the student body and engaging with students in such an open environment.
“It was a really fun experience because I got a chance to see many people on campus I’ve never seen before, some of them [were] professors. It was very special for me … to show everyone our culture,” said sophomore Peiwen Ding, who served southeastern Asian food with the Asian Student Association. With such a wide array of cultural cuisines available, the student body responded warmly to the International Food Fair.
“I think we got a positive response in general. I was happy. The people eating the food seemed happy. I guess I’m satisfied and the campus in general was satisfied,” said junior Isaac Lee, who served food with the Korean Club.
As many students recognize I-Fair 2015 as a major success, many of the participants, including Lee, believe that I-Fair 2016 can be even better. “I know the majority of the campus participates, but I do feel there is space for improvement in terms of [expanding].”