International flavor of Festival of Nations spices up university

The Muenster University Center Ballroom was filled to capacity Saturday night by students and community members seeking some international flavor.

LEFT: Members of the University of South Dakota’s African Student Association perform a dance at the Festival of Nations, which was held Saturday, March 31, in the Muenster University Center Ballroom (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

The annual Festival of Nations, hosted by the International Students Club, featured foods from 19 different countries, as well as performances from various students and student groups.

"The idea is to create a space where we can appreciate the diversity of the community, because a lot of times, people don't see how many different people are from all these different places," said Carolyn Prentice, faculty advisor to the International Students Club. "When you eat together and you share your food, you're sort of creating peace. This is what we all have in common."

Sama Patel, the club's president, said she was happy with how the evening went.

"It went really smoothly – I didn't hear any bad comments," she said. "There wasn't too much that went wrong. I think we had fewer tables than last year, but that's about it."

"People really love it," Prentice said. "They love the opportunity to see all these different people, and to eat food from all these different lands. It's authentic food, too. When you go to restaurants in the United States, a lot of times it's not quite the same."

BELOW: Deniz Fitzpatrick has a quick bite at the Festival of Nations Saturday. He and his twin sister Su joined their parents, Bob and Pelin Fitzpatrick, as they ran the Turkish table during the event. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

The attendees seemed to agree, crowding around as many of the different tables as they could until the food was gone.

Turkey was one of the countries represented, featuring such dishes as meatballs, Mediterranean rice pilaf, tabouli and assorted types of Turkish candy. The table was manned by USD's director of Marketing and University Relations Bob Fitzpatrick and his wife Pelin. Their twins Deniz and Su were on hand, as well.

"This is our third time (at the festival)," Pelin Fitzpatrick said. "It's going well. We're almost out of food, so I'm thinking that it's going well. I hope people like the food."

Fitzpatrick said she keeps coming back to the festival because of the opportunity it offers.

"I like being part of the international community, and meeting more people from around the world," she said. Also, it's a good chance for us to introduce our cultures to the American people here in Vermillion."

Second-year grad student Dani Dornbusch came for similar reasons.

"I'm not in the (International Students Club), but most of my friends are," she said. "I play soccer, and a lot of my friends are from all over, so I'm supporting them and coming out to meet people, and seeing what there is to offer. …

"I don't really know what to expect, and I'm looking forward to a fun, entertaining night," she said.

The festival was planned by an executive team of International Students Club members, who began discussions in the fall. Most of the planning took place after Christmas break.

"We started planning it about two months ago, and we started selling tickets March 12," Patel said. "But decorations we did the night before. Planning the floor plan took about two months."

After seeing how well the festival went, Patel said she plans to be involved next year, too.

"My favorite part of the whole thing was, we tried to get the kids involved and we played musical chairs," she said. "That was the newest thing, and everybody felt like they liked it. So, we'll keep that going for next year, and however many years people want to do it, trying to keep the audience involved."

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