If you have ever wanted to learn about world cultures but can’t afford the trip, UNC Charlotte’s International Festival is the place for you. Celebrating its 42nd year on Oct. 14, the festival has become an opportunity for the region’s diverse international community to come together and share their cultures and traditions with the over 20,000 attendees.
The event, which is held at the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center (the SAC), featured over 50 nations this year. Visitors were able to experience food, dance, sports and music as just a few of the activities presented during the six-hour event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this past Saturday.
Explorers are transported to an international bazaar as they weave through the large groups of people surrounding displays of treasures such as jewelry from Kenya, art from Syria, comic books from Belgium and crêpes from France. UNC Charlotte’s iFest is like a treat for the senses as you take in the smells, sounds and sights of every booth and performance. A place where all are welcome and there is something to see and do for everyone.
With this year being the first that Belgium was present at the festival, Lianne Meilhac enjoyed being able to represent her husband’s country at the booth. She thinks that in previous years the area Belgian expatriate may not have really thought about participating, but said “that given what is going on in the world right now, it felt like we really needed to represent more of everybody.”
A number of the items on display in their booth were provided by the Belgian consulate after her husband contacted them about taking part in this year’s festival. Meilhac believes that she and her husband will definitely be coming back next year.
The International Festival is an opportunity for generations of families to come together and represent their heritage. The Hungarian booth, which has participated for the past ten years, was an example of that. Christina Gladden moved to the United States from Hungary about 23 years ago and her children came out to help work the Hungary booth with her this year. When asked how her children feel about iFest Gladden said, “they love it. They love when people come up and talk to them so that’s awesome.”
The festival is not only an opportunity for nations to display their own culture, but to also come together with other nations and learn something new. Gladden mentioned that earlier in the day, the Hungarians and Bulgarians came together to share music and dance. She said that the Bulgarian’s bag pipe song was playing and that they invited the Hungarians to come over and dance with them. Moments like this one could be seen throughout the day as presenters from different nations took time to walk around and see what others had to offer.
Thanks to the collaboration of community sponsors like Chartwell’s College and University Dining Services, Cone University Center, the Office of Business Affairs, the Office of International Programs and Student Union Activities & Recreation, UNC Charlotte’s International Festival 2017 was another success, and many attendees are already looking forward to next year.