Photos by Chris Crews.
Established in 1975, the International Festival has always been a widely anticipated event for families, community members and students. UNC Charlotte prides itself in its diverse body of students and staff and utilizes this festival to showcase that. Each booth serves as a window into the cultures that make us unique.
The event was held in and around the Student Activity Center on September 29 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, giving visitors plenty of time to experience the games, art and crafts, dances, music and food. Representatives from 39 different countries provided information about their countries and served food for a more hands-on learning experience.
It is apparent as soon as one enters the festival that it is a means of camaraderie. This event is made to broaden the horizons of all visitors and encourage people to step outside of their comfort zones.
Ethan Mendel, a representative of the Israeli booth, said, “I think it provides a lot of diversity to show how diverse the campus is. You can get lost in your own niche or circle, and it shows how diverse the country is too.”
A highlight of the event within the festival is the Parade of Nations, a way for representatives to proudly represent their country for all to see. Dozens of representatives line-up for a procession inside of Dalton Arena wearing clothing and jewelry from their respective countries.
“What an amazing sight to see so many people proud to show off their country. There are so many people supporting and learning from each other,” said freshman Casey Denbow.
The passion of the representatives is obvious during the event. “I spent the entire summer in Israel, living there and working there. It means a lot to share that with people, being able to show my diversity with others.” emphasized Mendel. “I feel like [the culture] is a huge part of my being; I celebrate Shabbat every Friday and it feels like it is a part of who I am.”
The various cultures are very much embedded in each representative’s identity. Even the spectators dressed to express their pride in their home countries.
Outside the Student Activity Center, dozens of booths connect visitors with products that share the artistic values that each nation holds. Representatives from countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya offered handmade jewelry for purchase. Many booths, like the Liberian and Senegalese tables, also offered clothing that could be purchased. These products are brought into the homes and cultures of visitors to tell a story of the original country.
Each booth showed glimpses into the culture that the reflected each nation. The use of food was, and will always be, a large aspect of conveying one’s culture. French crêpes, Vietnamese egg rolls, Korean barbecue and Belgian waffles were just a few of the delicacies that sparked conversation between cultural representatives and visitors.
The upper lawn included games for all to play. Soccer received a large crowd of people, serving as an example of how people from different cultures can come together through a common interest. Inside the Student Activity Center, The Festival of Music and Dance held ensembles from countries such as South Africa, China, India and many more. A crowd favorite seemed to go to an Irish folk band called The Celtic Folk Band.
This year’s festival strengthened the University’s connection with the Charlotte community. It serves as a safe and inclusive environment that can resonate with everyone. As stated in the UNC Charlotte diversity statement: “UNC Charlotte is committed to cultivating diversity and inclusion throughout the campus. Our campus community is comprised of people who represent the wide breadth of gender identities, sexualities, races and ethnicities, faith traditions, nationalities, and other social groups and backgrounds. All of these identities and experiences enrich the University as a whole. UNC Charlotte strives to celebrate and leverage the benefits of this diversity, and to sustain an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, faculty, and staff.”
The International Festival adds meaning to these words by bringing together a diverse group of Charlotteans.