Culture at its colorful best celebrated at The University of Findlay’s International Night
By Sarah Mayle
Dressed in colorful, flowing hanboks – the traditional attire for South Korean women – Gunyoung Na and Haley Whitehair welcomed the curiosity of visitors Friday during the University of Findlay’s International Night. The duo, their South Korea booth counterparts, and those in attendance were part of something much bigger – people coming together to reach a better understanding of one another in a community committed to just that.
It was the University of Findlay’s 48th International Night, held at the Koehler Center and hosted by student groups and The Buford Center for Diversity and Service. The misty, dreary weather outside failed to dampen the spirits of the community. A record number of about 1,500 people attended the festival-like event designed to bring cultures together and promote a hospitable environment to all nationalities both on campus and in the community.
A Welcoming Community
It’s an ideal both City of Findlay officials and university staff have worked hard to bring to reality. Mayor Lydia Mihalik has traveled abroad to strengthen relationships with companies already operating in Findlay and to build connections with new ones. Twelve foreign corporations are located in Findlay – seven from Japan, three from Germany, one from Brazil and one from Denmark. She considers diversity an enrichment and enhancement to Findlay.
“The City of Findlay is intentional about the way we interact with our international community,” Mihalik said. “We believe there is value in diversity of many different things, differences of culture, differences of thought, and ultimately it makes us a better community.”
Mihalik lauded the chance for community members to experience other cultures – no plane ticket required.
“Not everyone is able travel abroad,” Mihalik said. “It’s pretty amazing that in a small midwestern community like Findlay, Ohio, you can tour the globe in one night. It goes without saying that the University of Findlay provides that opportunity in a very open and welcome environment.”
Students representing 17 countries worked diligently to create booths with decorations, artifacts, educational information, presentations and activities as well as rousing international foods to taste. All through the evening performances on stage featured traditional song and dance, a fashion show and an end-of-the-night, all-inclusive dance party. Scholarships were also awarded throughout the evening.
“It is our intent to create a campus where diversity is viewed as a valuable part of the educational process and where campus and community members, while understanding commonalities, can appreciate and respect the unique attributes of each individual,” said Eileen Rucki, program coordinator for the Buford Center for Diversity and Service. “We feel that events such as this aid individuals in understanding their own cultural identity, and in developing an awareness of and appreciation for the commonalities and differences among and within cultures.”
A Wider World View
Steve and Amy Temple, of Findlay, brought their kids Andrew, 11, and Madison, 10, to International Night to broaden their perspectives. They remarked they enjoyed tasting new foods, trying activities and the stage performances of the evening.
“In this day and age, with the way our country is now, I feel like it’s important that our kids are educated about other cultures,” Amy said. “In order to appreciate diversity, you have to have an understanding of it,” Steve added.
The family waited in line to watch Fumiho Kondo, an exchange student from the University of Fukui in Japan, demonstrate a traditional Japanese tea ceremony arranged on a mat on the floor. She was dressed in a flaxen kimono adorned with a floral design, and adeptly mixed and stirred the green tea, which guests could them sample.
Nearby, Bill and Darlene Johnston of Ada explored booths with their 7-year-old daughter, Daphne. Darlene, formerly a teacher in the international department, said she was happy to see that International Night had made its way to the Koehler Center, a larger venue than its previous location. She and Daphne were excited about their temporary henna tattoos applied on their wrists at the India booth. The parents were impressed that Daphne sampled and enjoyed many of the foods.
Back to Na and Whitehair at the South Korea booth, throughout the evening they wore their hanboks and offered the chance to try one on to passers-by. Their booth boasted a number of artifacts, a poster chock full of facts and photos, Korea tourism posters, the chance to sample South Korean food, and more. Whitehair, from Ohio, said she has always loved K-pop and finds the culture fascinating.
Na, 26, explained that while she is now a pharmacy major, she first came to UF to try the equestrian program, but it ended up not being what she expected.
When asked if there is something about South Korean culture that Americans might find surprising or interesting, she said that most South Koreans are quite comfortable with English. “Most South Korean people have learned English for a long time,” Na explained. “If you wanted to visit for a vacation or stay for a while, you could probably work your way through without a problem.”
Time to book a flight?