International Festival brings different cultures to Marshall

Students and restaurants representing at least 30 countries around the world attracted what organizers hoped to be upward of 2,000 people Saturday evening to Marshall University’s 54th annual International Festival at the Memorial Student Center.

The event was free to attend, but guests could purchase tickets to sample foods in the first-floor lobby from different international restaurants throughout the Tri-State, such as Chateau d’Italia, El Ranchito, New China Garden Buffet, The Cellar Door and Marshall Dining by Sodexo.

Flags from different countries lined the walls of the Don Morris Room upstairs over the heads of student volunteers and guests as they interacted, and music filled the room as people dressed in colorful garments performed traditional dances.

“A lot of people always say they don’t know about the festival or they don’t know about certain countries, and this is a way to learn,” said Jyotsna Patel, office administrator for Marshall’s Office of International Student Services. “Hopefully that’s what they take away – learning about different cultures and seeing that basically we’re all the same in some way.”

The International Festival is West Virginia’s largest, longest-running event to promote cultures from all over the world.

Aside from food, music and clothing, guests learned some basic facts from displays at the international students’ information booths, which featured photographs, sculptures and craftwork originating in the representatives’ countries. What they took away the most, however, were the things they learned in conversation with people from different cultures.

“It’s a two-way road,” said Sara Alasttal, a Palestinian pre-med freshman from Jerusalem. “They’re welcoming us, and we’re welcoming them.”

Alasttal, 19, volunteered at a popular booth representing 22 Arab countries, which included Palestine, Egypt and Tunisia, among others. Like other booths, all of the items on the table were made in other countries and brought over by the students’ families.

Although she had lived in the U.S. once before when she was young, Alasttal moved here with her family 10 months ago so she could go to Marshall and find opportunities here.

“It’s amazing here so far,” she said. “It’s different – it’s not the way it was back home. You obviously get really homesick, but … it’s not bad at all.”

Charleston acts Voodoo Katz and Wood & Wine performed some songs on a stage upstairs throughout the evening, but most of the entertainment was provided by international students. Performances included a variety of traditional dances, songs and martial arts, and Marshall’s mascot, Marco, also made an appearance.

Children had “passports” stamped as they moved from booth to booth and were treated to games, and students from the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine provided a kids area with an interactive map of the globe on the floor. In addition, the Pan-African Student Association did face painting and the Saudi Arabia table provided a photo booth.

The restaurants offered samples of their signature menu items. Mexican restaurant El Ranchito, for example, showcased its steak burritos, beef tacos, candy and pan dulce, a type of Mexican sweet bread.

“(The International Festival) helps people open their minds to see what’s really out there and to get to know other people’s cultures,” said Luis Colin, 25, who has worked at El Ranchito for five years and is originally from Morelos, Mexico.

Marshall’s Office of International Student Services and Division of Student Affairs partnered with Cabell County Schools to put on the event, and it was sponsored by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Kroger and BB&T.


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