A Festive Culture: Exchange Students Exchange Backgrounds

Photo by Melanie Zerah.

Food, friendship and a shared curiosity for one another’s culture was cause for the widely popular semesterly event hosted by the International Students Union (ISU), welcoming exchange students and international students from 23 countries to share their lifestyle.

“The connections ISU makes does not only contribute to the local community, but to the world as well,” said Cindy Cullen, coordinator of ISU services. “It is not only a celebration of our differences, but our similarities as well as people with similar morals and values.”

According to Cullen, SUNY New Paltz has seen 1,700 international students from over 77 countries this school year. Founding members of ISU like Masooma Rahmaty, a fourth-year international relations major from Afghanistan described the organization as an outlet for foreign students to feel welcome in a new country and way to make long-lasting friendships with other students from around the world.

The Multicultural Festival on Thursday, April 28 filled the Student Union Multipurpose Room with 23 booth set-ups of different countries, hosted by students native to the area to share information to attendees. Also featured at the event were three live performances: an acoustic/vocal duo, an Eastern European dance and a Spanish bagpipe performance.

Upon arriving at the event, each attendee is given a “passport” with a flag of each of the countries present pictured. In order to enjoy the delicious food catered in from New Paltz local Jamaican Choice, Asian Fusion, Mexican Kitchen, Tzatziki and Indian Restaurant, the attendee had to acquire 10 signatures from different representatives at each booth, and present their “passport” to the “customs” stand in front of the banquet of cultural food.

Second-semester India exchange student Uday Kiran Sarrki wore a traditional royal blue Sherwani while sharing his experiences and knowledge from his home-country at the India booth.

Sarrki’s beautifully designed tri-fold board displayed colorful photos of various Indian festivals such as Diwali, the five-day festival of light and Holi, a Hindu spring festival of colors celebrated in India and Nepal.

In India, the four most prominent religions are Hinduism, Muslim, Sikh and Christianity. As a Hindu man from the city of Hyderabad in Southern India, Sarrki spoke of the fights he has seen between Hindu and Muslim people in India in his lifetime.

Sarrki also explained that the caste system among Hindus in past centuries which dictated one’s social and financial standing without chance of mobility no longer restricts people from living the life they want.

“You can be a part of the lowest caste system and still become a doctor or a teacher if you want,” Sarrki said. “It no longer matters.”

Patricia Lopez, an architecture and fine arts major exchange student from Ecuador shared that her home country is not just one culture, but a mixture of many from Columbia to Chile. Lopez pointed out pictures on her colorful tri-fold board of the beautiful beaches of Ecuador on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.

Lopez cheerfully described the artistic and heavily cultural Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, home to some extremely large tortoises who can live up to 200 years. However, Lopez could not keep her entire presentation as lighthearted as she wished.

As an Ecuadorian woman, Lopez feels great despair for those affected by the April 16 earthquake which devastated Regions of Manta, Pedernales and Portoviejo. The earthquake had a major magnitude of 7.8, a severe number on the Earthquake Magnitude Scale that killed 654, left over 2,600 injured and caused 58 people to go missing.

Lopez and her family do not live in the region affected by the calamitous 45-second disaster, however they are still grieving and doing their best to help those in need.

“My whole family reacted and brought food, water and help to the area the day it happened,” Lopez said. “The entire country reacted as well as those surrounding us.”

Lopez said the struggle facing the affected regions are a shortage of medicine, doctors and water. Next to her tri-fold exhibiting the wonders of Ecuador was a smaller board with statistics of the damage the earthquake caused, and a small donation box for attendees to extend their help and concern to those in need.

The hashtag #PrayForEcuador is encouraged to be used to spread awareness and to reach out for help from kind people around the world.

For many of ISU members, the Spring 2016 Multicultural Festival will be their last. Founding member Patricia Backman, a fourth-year double-major in French and public relations said the festival is the largest international event to take place semesterly in the Hudson Valley, a feat she is extremely proud of.