By Leah Jones, Features Editor
As the days got darker after daylight savings time, International Education Week gave students the chance to learn about how light triumphs over darkness in the Indian celebration of Diwali, among other international fall festivals.
“International Education Week is an initiative by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education where they encourage universities and schools around the world to do different events that promote different cultures and sharing of cultures thought out this week here in November,” explained Rebecca Kehe, an International Student Advisor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The week’s events, which were hosted by International Studies and Programs, the Study Abroad Office, the Office of Student Involvement, and the International House, included a Study Abroad Alumni Panel, a lecturer from the New York Times, International Coffee Hour, an OPT/STEM Workshop, International Trivia Night, a CPT workshop, and a celebration of Global Thanksgiving.
On November 14, students shared their stories and experiences studying abroad at the Study Abroad Panel held in room 331 of the Social Sciences and Business Building (SSB) from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Later that same day, UMSL hosted the Catherine Pelican Memorial Annual Lecture in Greek Studies. This year, New York Times lecturer Margalit Fox, spoke on “The Riddle of the Labyrinth,” in Century Room A of the Millennium Student Center.
On Tuesday, the International House held International Coffee Hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students shared their stories over their different teas and coffees from around the world. “We [had] green teas, jasmine teas, European coffee, Arabic coffee, so students [were] welcome to come and try these different drinks and share stories and things like that,” Kehe said. “And the students themselves [made] the drinks and they’re the experts on how to make the drinks…and so it’s really awesome when the students make that and share how it’s so different than how we see coffee, but it’s just as good.”
The Pilot House hosted the International Trivia Night in the Millennium Student Center Pilot House from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. that same evening. Teams of four competed to answer questions from five different categories about world culture.
On Wednesday, students celebrated Global Thanksgiving from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the MSC Pilot House. “We are sort of kicking off the Thanksgiving break with that event for students…[Some] of our international students…have never had a Thanksgiving dinner, so we [had] a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at this event, where students [could] come and share their Thanksgiving traditions with these international students that have no knowledge or background of that. And then it’s also an opportunity for international students to kind of highlight holidays that are in their countries in the fall, either their fall harvest festivals or other celebrations that take place just to kind of show that while we all have different celebrations, we all can come together and we all celebrate the same ways…So we [had] different students highlighting different holidays in their countries, and then shar[ing] that Thanksgiving meal together,” Kehe said.
Meghana Medavaka, junior, computer science, attended the Global Thanksgiving celebration. She said that the event featured traditional American Thanksgiving foods such as turkey, bread, corn, and pie. Artists and calligraphers also wrote students’ names in henna and calligraphy to highlight the beauty of different languages.
One of the fall festivals that students presented on was the Indian holiday of Diwali. “That was really cool because I [have] celebrated Diwali since I was kid. I celebrate it basically every year, so that was really fun for someone to go up there and tell everyone about…the history of that festival, how we celebrate it [and] why we celebrate it,” Medavaka said.
According to Medavaka, Diwali celebrates the return of a king to his kingdom. The king was banished with his wife and daughter to a forest for 14 years. However, the king’s wife was kidnapped by an evil demon. The king won his wife back after many trials, tribulations, and an epic battle, and they returned to their kingdom triumphant. “They lit the whole kingdom with lights and lamps and everything with candles…called diya…and they celebrated the victory of goodness over evil,” Medavaka said. “[Diwali] is called the festival of lights. It’s symbolic because it celebrates [a] historic event where darkness is defeated by light…Good beats bad…and goodness finally has victory.”
In addition to Diwali, Kehe said that the Global Thanksgiving event highlighted other fall festivals . “We [had] a student talking about the Fall Eid, which is different from the Ramadan Eid…We [had] some students who are American talking about their traditions on Thanksgiving…We also [had] a few students talking about their moon festivals and their East Asian festivals as well.”
Kehe said that she hoped both international students and local students would be able to take something away from the week’s events. “I think having a week where we share our culture and we share just stories, our story, because every person has a different story and be able to celebrate that diversity in many different ways, whether it’s with our food or whether it’s with our knowledge of the world or with our traditions, I think that that’s really important for campuses to be able to have that facilitation and that space for that,” she said.
“UMSL is a pretty diverse place,” Kehe continued. While there are 540 students attending on student visas, Kehe said that UMSL also hosts refugees, immigrants, and first generation American students. “So the identity of international and the identity of being American sometimes is a little more fluid with the population that is here and it is interesting to see how all of those different populations kind of work together and they have commonalities and they have differences, but they all kind of come together rand do things together,” she said.
Medavaka agreed and relayed her experiences moving from India to the United States as a high school student seven years ago. She said, “It’s such a unique experience, I can say…I had to leave everything behind. I came with my family, [but] many of the international students leave their parents, siblings, cousins, relatives, [and] everybody behind. I know how that feels because all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, are back in India…So UMSL has done a really great thing to bring international students and local students together, so I really appreciate that.”
“This is hopefully just one of many different opportunities that we can highlight the diversity on campus, not only just the international diversity but also just the diversity ideas and different values, that’s not necessarily different international cultures, but that’s even subcultures,” Kehe said.
As the days get darker and more uncertain, hopefully events like these will continue to highlight how light trumps darkness, and facilitate sharing, learning, and understanding among UMSL’s diverse population.
For more information on International Education Week, visit eca.state.gov/programs-initiatives/international-education-week/.