WMU students anxious to share their cultures at International Festival

Contact: Raine Kuch

Female dancer in traditional dress.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Building an understanding of different cultures can be entertaining as well as informative, and that's why organizers say no one should miss Western Michigan University's 30th annual International Festival.

This year's festival will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, March 24, on the second floor of the Bernhard Center.

A popular event since 1989, International Festival celebrates WMU's diversity and gives its more than 1,800 international students from 101 countries a chance to share their cultural heritage. It annually draws some 5,000 students and community members, who experience food, culture and fashion from around the world through booth displays and performances brought to life by the University's culturally oriented registered student organizations.

"This University embraces diversity every day," says Augusto Domínguez, a member of the Dominican Student Organization. "Society today is global, and WMU fostering that sentiment for 30 years now is very impressive."

Admission to International Festival is free, and for a nominal fee, attendees may taste traditional cuisines prepared by international students with assistance from WMU Dining Services. Members of the Western Student Association will be on hand this year to accept donations of nonperishable food items on behalf of WMU's Invisible Need Project.

Dominican, Indonesian, Malaysian and 14 other registered student groups are participating in the 2019 festival. An awards panel of judges composed of WMU students, staff, faculty and administrators will select the top booths and performances.

Learn more about International Festival  

Dominican Student Organization

WMU is home to nearly 100 students from the Dominican Republic, approximately half of whom participate in the Dominican Student Organization.

"It's important to me to share our culture at International Festival because our culture is already a mix of cultures," group member Yuleisy Suriel Pena says. "When you experience Dominican culture, you are experiencing an evolution of all the different groups that settled on our island."

Students staffing the 2018 Dominican Student Organization booth.

Representing the life and culture of an island of more than 10 million people at International Festival is a difficult task. But one factor making this a little easier is understanding that it's impossible to represent Dominican life without dance. So, the Dominican Student Organization's performances at the festival consistently include a showcase of dances like the Merengue and the Bachata, which are staples in Dominican culture.

"I see the benefit in celebrating diversity—what makes us unique—and celebrating what makes us similar," says Miguel Diaz, another member of the group. "Even though we all dance differently, we all dance."

Indonesian Students Association

WMU enrolls nearly 80 students from Indonesia, which is a collection of volcanic islands with hundreds of ethnic groups that speak different languages and practice different religions but are united under one constitution.

"The best part of International Festival is unity," says Anis Labene, president of the Indonesian Students Association. "We are from all over the world and we come together with different cultures and different languages. It unites us."

The 85-member association is returning to International Festival after winning the "best booth" category in 2018. The group emphasizes the importance of including all members in planning the portrayal of Indonesian culture for the festival. Members agree that preparing for the event is a lot of work, but worth it for the experience.

"You can never buy experiences. Experiences are important, and that is the main thing that I get out of this organization," Labene says.

Malaysian Students' Association

Malaysia is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences, but when it comes to the 2019 International Festival, Malaysian Students' Association President Yuan Sheng Sit says the group will be focusing on teaching attendees about Baba Nyoya culture.

WMU is home to more than 80 students from Malaysia. Although the Malaysian Students' Association won the "best performance" performance category in 2018, members say that this year's focus is on educating about culture rather than winning.

"The Malaysian Student Organization is not really going into this with the mindset of winning," says Rohini Perera, secretary for the group. "We all are doing this more so because we miss home and want to share a bit of our culture with people around us."

Additional information

International Festival is organized by the International Student Activities office in WMU's Haenicke Institute for Global Education and is co-sponsored by the Western Student Association, Campus Activities Board and Invisible Needs Project.

For more information, including a full list of 2019 participants, visit the International Festival website. Address questions to the International Activities office at intl-activities@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3966. Directions to WMU and campus maps are available online.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.