When I stepped into the McNeil Room in the Rensselaer Union at 11 am on Friday, I instantly regretted having had my breakfast. I would like to quote the words I heard from a young man among the crowd “ Wow, I feel like I am travelling around the world!”
International Festival is an annual event on campus that celebrates the many cultures present at RPI. Various clubs and associations gathered to display their diverse backgrounds in the form of stands and performances—the stands offered different foods and written descriptions of cultures, while the performances offered further examples of the culture. To better serve the event, the McNeil Room became a center stage surrounded by stands. The stage was set up for performances, while the stands were all bordering the wall so that people could walk around the room and have a thorough look at all of the different stands.
At the beginning of the event, there were only a few stands ready. As the event progressed, the increasing number of visitors and stands made the originally commodious McNeil Room feel smaller. The initial goal of the festival was to promote cultural diversity on campus with the help of students of different backgrounds. However, some clubs tried their best to convey the essence of unrepresented cultures, simply out of their thick interests in foreign cultures, which positively changed the original arrangement of the International Festival.
The Pakistani Student Association decided to offer not only local drinks, but temporary Henna tattoos as well. The tattoo looks like a sinuous wrapped on the hand from wrist to index finger with flowers attached to it, which displays the mysterious and aesthetic attractiveness of Pakistani culture.
The Philippine American League was no doubt one of the most popular stands in the McNeil Room. It offered chicken made through distinctive authentic methods and rice free of charge. I could not help trying every single kind. The perfect match of fresh chicken and local sauce completely fulfilled my appetite. Member Phil Vincent G. Castanares ’19 said, “ We discussed our schedule for this event really early in order to get fully prepared. By the way, we decided to try some new desserts this year, so we replaced bibingka with turon. Moreover, we prepared music and a speaker to offer lively performances.” When asked how he liked the club, he gave a big smile and said it is awesome to share the culture and make great new friends simultaneously.
In the corner of the McNeil Room, I saw the Muslim Student Association. As a religious club, it does not receive funding from the Union, but finally gained financial support from local churches after reaching out. The difference lies in that the group sells not only food but bracelets embossed with “Why not save the world?” Graduate student Wafaa Karaki and Leen Al madani ’18 said that members in MSA designed this motto one month ago and made the online order. All profits earned in the festival would be donated to Islamic Relief USA for Syria refugee assistance projects.
Similarly, the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, as a nationally organized group, could not receive monetary support from the Union. However, as an incumbent student body with 50 branches nationwide, it still had difficulties allocating resources evenly to each branch. Fortunately, SASE at RPI finally gained sponsorship from a local Asian restaurant after a year-long negotation.With gratis authentic food freshly made and delivered that morning, members in SASE sold out later, and managed to overcome the previous year’s failure.
Thanks to the participation of not only students, but also parents and alumni, the international festival turned out to be a success. From the talk with two local alumni afterwards, I learned that racial diversity at RPI has grown significantly compared to how it used to be decades ago, and the gender ratio has changed.Given all these favorable differences, the developing diversity has enriched the campus tremendously. If you missed the festival this year, then you should definitely attend next year; it truly feels like you are travelling around the world.