The University of New Orleans hosted a cultural melting pot the night of March 25 as students, faculty and members of the New Orleans community piled into the Human Performance Center for International Night, an event sponsored by the International Student Organization.
During International Night, citizens from various countries represented their homelands in both table displays open to the public and song and/or dance performances.
Rajan Poudel, the public relations officer for ISO said, “International night is the biggest student-run event on campus, by number of people, investment and advertising. Students, faculty, and people from around the city come to this event, and it’s important to establish a cultural harmony between nations.”
One side of the HPC was dedicated purely to cultural exhibitions from the countries that signed up for the events.
Tables from India, Pakistan, Norway and Vietnam were just some of the cultural displays. Some tables had relics from their countries of origin, others had pamphlets with information, and some had food and several featured a combination.
“International night is important because it gives everyone a chance to see where we’re from,” said Nada Van Kempen, an international student who represented her heritage at the Australian table. “Australia and America have many similarities, but also many differences. On the surface, our cultures look very similar, but we have a very rich indigenous culture. I think Australia has a very quintessential culture based around our connection to the land many Americans do not know about.”
Although the environment at the cultural exhibitions was relaxed, there was a competition going on. At the end of the night, the ISO declared a winner from the displays.
Ramadhi Briyadham, an Indian student at his country’s table said, “This is not about competition; it’s about displaying your culture from home for the student of UNO. Everything you see here is what we have back home. This event helps with UNO’s representation in the community as a diverse place.”
While the cultural exhibits were going on, food was served on the other side of the HPC. Student volunteers served dishes donated from various restaurants around New Orleans, including orange chicken, plantains from Cuba and lo mein from Vietnam.
Gage Cochrane, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major, said, “I volunteered for this event because I feel like ISO and international students, in general, are a huge part of the campus and the campus life. I wanted to pay it back and volunteer.”
“It’s important to have this event to show respect for other cultures not our own. Are we an uncultured nation, or are we a country that truly cares about other people on the planet?”
Later in the evening, the audience settled into the bleachers on the left side of the HPC, and the organizers of the event were introduced and President Nicklow gave a brief speech.
Following the speeches, the cultural performances started. Some of the acts were energetic group dances set to pre-recorded music, and some were intimate singing numbers while others were live instrumental performances.
Christine Stebralia, a general advisor at the Office of International Students who had a major role in making sure the night went smoothly said, “We had a huge number of people sign up this year for performances: Fifteen in total, definitely more than last year. We actually had to turn a few people down since we had so many, but they were all amazing.”
Seven of the acts went on before an intermission was declared, during which a cultural fashion show went on. After the fashion show concluded, Palestine was announced as the winner of the cultural exhibition.
Halima Jaber, a senior studying psychology, worked the Palestine table. “When you go to a table, you get to ask people questions face-to-face, and you’re able to learn things you didn’t before. I think it’s important we represent Palestine, because my culture, so often, gets a bad reputation.”
“I want people to know we’re more than what the media sees. We’re not bad people. Our food is amazing; I’m proud of my culture. People should be proud of where they came from, not wary of showing what makes their home special.”
Stebralia said, “I think people have this misconception other cultures are so different, and there are so many differences between people from foreign countries. I think when you actually meet people from other countries, you realize everybody has the same basic human needs: friendship, food, music.”
“I think the only way we will evolve as a species is if we understand we are all the same. I love seeing people come together like this. Stereotypes are like a disease. This is the medicine.”