Yellow, red, blue, green, stripe, stars, circles…When entering Hesston College’s Cultures Fair, you encounter multiple colors, patterns, and designs on flags, you take in the traditional attire of the international students, and peruse the display boards showing famous places to visit, traditional food, and each country’s history in pictures.
Carlota Ponds is the director of International Student Services who coordinates the Cultural Fair.
“When I look around at the Cultural Fair, I feel excited to see the richness of our community,” Ponds said. “To me, it looks like what heaven will be like… the diversity of the world with everyone being appreciated.”
On March 4, the annual Cultural Fair was held in the community center at Hesston College Mennonite Church. Participants made food from their home countries and shared it with students and people from the community. They also performed traditional dance and songs.
“Cultural pride is shared and received openly, between students, faculties, and staff from around the world and here in the US,” said Ponds. “Everyone learns to understand and appreciate our global family.”
Ponds says the fair also provides an opportunity for international students to celebrate parts of their culture they’re missing as students in the U.S.
“A lot of times, the U.S. students don’t realize that studying in the U.S.A. doesn’t mean that they don’t love their home,” Ponds said. “They still love their home, they still want to go back home, they still miss things about home.”
The Cultural Fair has a rich history. It originated informally, but the fair has slowly evolved into the carefully organized event we experienced this week.
In the early 1990s, some international students started cooking food from their home countries just for themselves and to share among international students. Dave Osborne, former director of international admissions helped them use the kitchen in the cafeteria and buy ingredients for the dishes they made. Soon they invited their roommates and their roommates invited their friends, and the event got bigger and bigger. That’s when the idea of a Cultures Fair took off.
“The students asked to repeat the activity, but to also invite their HC friends, community host families, and others,” Osborne said.
In 1996, Hesston’s international students and campus facilities officially started the fair, then called “The International Festival.” They started working alongside cafeteria staff to make food. They also created performances representing their own cultures. Sometimes students sang, danced, and put on fashion shows. Everything took place in the cafeteria during supper so that all students could attend. At this point, the Cultures Fair became a huge event for Hesston College.
Later, themes were established for each festival. Osborne’s favorite was in 1999: “International Year of Older Persons.” The international students brought pictures of their grandparents and created an exhibit on the wall in the Nest to celebrate them.
“Everyone loves their grandparents. Everyone misses their grandparents.” Osborne said.
But Osborne says themes like this one serve a deeper purpose.
“I would like to see the common humanity which we share together,” he said.
After Osborne left Hesston College, there was a big change in the style of the fair. The name was changed from the International Festival to the Cultures Fair, and the location moving from the cafeteria to the Community Center. After the change, the international students created display tables for each of the countries and set up panel boards to provide background information. Because of those changes, they have more interaction with the guests.
“Every change in the format of this event has arisen from the desires of students,” Ponds said.
The current format allows students to personally share aspect of their homeland with fellow students and off-campus public.
“The Cultural Fair is a campus-wide group hug,” Ponds said.
Past Themes of the International Festival/Cultures Fair
2012 A parade of nations
2011 It’s a celebration
2010 Celebrating the world of nature
2009 An international Valentine
2008 Religious Celebrations
2007 Celebrating our Music
2006 Celebrating Wedding around the World
2005 One World, Different Cultures; Many people, One peace