Mason Celebrates Cultural Diversity at 27th Annual International Week

Posted: April 9, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Probst

International dancers

“Mason: A Global Gateway” is the theme for the 27th annual International Week when George Mason celebrates its diversity. With more than 130 different countries represented at Mason, International Week allows students, faculty and staff to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of foreign lands.

The opening ceremony will feature a Parade of Nations as students carry flags of the different countries represented at Mason. Activities began with a soccer and cricket tournament over the weekend and will continue through Saturday, April 14.

International Week is a part of the Office of International Programs and Services (OIPS), which provides guidance to students and employees at Mason in immigration, employment and taxation, adjustment issues and offers a variety of programs highlighting global themes. As a time to celebrate and promote cultural awareness, International Week depends upon its immigrant and visa students to ensure its success.

“There is an interesting hybrid of students who are working and organizing events during the week,” says Sandarshi Gunawardena, assistant director of OIPS. “Although the event is predominantly organized by immigrant students, we try to blend both immigrant and visa students together.”

Although both groups have very different goals and needs, they are able to tap into their community resources and encourage others to attend International Week.

“International Week draws heavily from the community, especially on the cultural nights,” Gunawardena says. “Many student organizations advertise the events on Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and reach out to neighboring colleges and universities.”

Mabel Obinim is vice president of the African Students Association and organizer of African Night, which takes place on Thursday, April 12. African Night will provide everyone a chance to learn about Trans-African cultures in a showcase of fashion, dance, music and food.

“Being a part of a student body of different cultures is very important to me because it is not only important to share, but to learn about the diversity of people around the world,” Obinim says. “Here is my chance to learn by being a part of a student body and student organizations.”

The week was originally intended to celebrate the small number of students from overseas on visas, but as the international community continued to grow, International Week became a mix of both groups’ cultures. Currently there are 1,500 to 1,800 students on temporary visas while immigrant students compose one third of Mason students.

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“For students who were born and raised abroad, this is their chance to present something they already know and are familiar with. It’s exciting for them because they can rekindle joys and memories of their home country,” Obinim says. “Students who were born in the United States are given the opportunity to learn about other cultures through, food, music and dance. It’s a wonderful way for students to learn.”

Arabian Night takes place on Friday, April 13, at 5 p.m., and will allow visitors to experience the Arab world through games, dances, food and music in an outdoor tent reminiscent of Arabia.

“George Mason is like a microcosm of the United States,” says Nour Akkad, Arabian Night organizer. “It is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and religion.”

Some of the highlights of this year’s International Week include a dance competition on Tuesday, April 10, and a fashion show on Thursday, April 12. Both events will take place at noon.

The Prince William campus will hold a “Colloquium on Crime and Criminal Justice in the Caribbean” on Thursday, April 12, at 10 a.m. in Bull Run Hall, Room 130. Father Jason Gordon and Winston Cooper, a deputy commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, will speak about reducing gang violence and the organizational transformation of the national police force.

Other events taking place at Prince William include a night of African drummers and dancers on Monday, April 9 at noon and a Karaoke and “Taste of the World” reception on Wednesday, April 11, at 5 p.m.

The Arlington Campus celebrates International Week with a reception on Tuesday, April 10, at 6 p.m. in room 329 of the Original Building. Students and visitors will have the opportunity to network with internationally focused organizations about study abroad, volunteer and employment opportunities. The reception will also include international cuisine and feature an international recipe exchange.

Some of the newer events that are taking place include:

  • The Celebration of International Education on Tuesday, April 10, at 3 p.m., will give faculty, staff and students an opportunity to showcase their international and global contributions to Mason.
  • The Showcase of Cultures and Global Voices on Wednesday, April 11, at noon, invites primarily visa students to showcase their countries and cultures.
  • International Field Day on Thursday, April 12, at 10 a.m. allows visitors to play games and contests from around the world.

The grand finale of International Week will be an international dinner dance where winners of the international dance competition will perform.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from. There is no other country in the world like the United States,” Akkad says. “Everyone is from somewhere else, either directly or ancestrally. To see all the cultures coming together is indescribable.”

All the events during International Week are free and open to the public.

For a complete schedule of activities, see the OIPS web site.

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