Mason Students Proud to Display Their Cultural Heritage during Annual International Week

Posted: April 7, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Parade of flags
Dressing in native costumes, demonstrating ethnic dances and carrying flags during International Week give students an opportunity to share their cultural heritage with the rest of the student body.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Many people know Malkit (Mona) Singh because of her academic reputation. She has garnered several scholarly awards, including the prestigious Truman scholarship. But not many people know that she is one of the choreographers for El Taal Bhangra Dance Team, which won Mason’s International Week dance competition last year.

“I love bhangra,” she says of the style of music and dance that originated in India’s Punjab region. Some people say her knowledge of bhangra dancing is “incredibly impressive,” but Singh is very modest and credits all the team’s choreographers and dancers for its success.

In recent weeks, El Taal Bhangra and many other student dance teams on campus have been seriously preparing for the International Dance Competition, one of the hallmarks of Mason’s annual celebration of all things global.

The 28th annual International Week runs through Saturday, April 12. The dance competition is Tuesday, April 8, beginning at noon on the North Plaza of the Johnson Center. Winners will perform at the International Dinner Dance on Saturday night.

For Students, By Students

Through the years, International Week has grown in its nature and its scope. Mason has consistently been recognized as having one of the most diverse campuses in the United States by college sources such as the Princeton Review.

students wearing costumes
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Records currently estimate that students from about 134 countries and regions attend Mason. As more cultures are represented on campus, the Office of International Programs and Services (OIPS) has expanded International Week’s program offerings to include them.

“As the interest and commitment to cross-cultural learning and understanding have grown, more campus and community members have participated,” says Judith Green, director of OIPS. “This is good news for all of us, because our role as global citizens has never been more important.”

Preparations for the annual week begin in the fall semester, according to Sandarshi Gunawardena, assistant director of OIPS, and much of the planning is driven by the students, mainly those in the International Student Umbrella (ISU). ISU comprises more than 30 student organizations, and many of these groups are behind the organizing and execution of such events as African Night and Russian Culture Night that are happening throughout the week.

“Whether these students were born in the United States, are recent immigrants to this country, or are international students here to attend college, all are eager to share their cultural heritage,” says Gunawardena. “They may be regular college students all the rest of the year, but this week they are proud of their native heritage and are looking to showcase where they are from.”

One of the ways they do this is in a parade of cultures and nations, a colorful display of flags representing more than 134 nationalities that kicks off International Week. This parade depicts Mason’s diversity and acknowledges the many cultures on the campus.

In this year’s parade, which begins at noon on Monday, April 7, freshman Yasser Nadeem Mahmoud will be participating for the first time, carrying the Egyptian flag.

“It’s a very big deal for me to carry the flag,” says Mahmoud, who was born in Egypt and is majoring in neuroscience and chemistry at Mason. “I love Egypt with all my heart, and this is a great opportunity for me to represent my birthplace while contributing to our school’s awesome tradition.”

Creating a Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Over the years, International Week has been known for its International Bazaars held each day at noon on the North Plaza. Here participants get to sample international food while watching dance and musical performances and wandering among the cultural exhibits and vendor displays.

Beyond the talent and fashion shows that mark the week, participants are also tackling meatier topics and initiating a cross-cultural dialogue. Among the topics covered this year are

  • Global Consumerism: Provost Peter Stearns presents a lecture on global consumerism as part of a videoconference with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Monday, April 7, 9 to 10:30 a.m., Research I, Room 163
  • Fiction, Friction, or Fusion? A Critical Examination of Globalization and Its Rhetoric: The movie “Outsourced” is used as a springboard for a critical inquiry of globalization and its multiple realities. Wednesday, April 9, 12:30 to 4 p.m., Johnson Center Cinema
  • Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Tibet: Panelists, including Daja Wangchuk, author of “Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness,” discuss their personal experiences and the history of Tibet. Thursday, April 10, 3 to 4:30 p.m., Johnson Center Cinema

Gulnara Mirzakarimova brought her traditional Uzbekistan clothing with her when she came to Mason.
Photo by Nicolas Tan
  • The Effects of U.S. Immigration Policy on People: Presenters include Deirdre Moloney, Woodrow Wilson Center; Cristina Finch, Human Rights Campaign; Peter Mandaville, Center for Global Studies; and Tiffiany Howard, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Thursday, April 10, 3 to 4:15 p.m., Student Union Building II, Ballroom

Mason junior Gulnara Mirzakarimova brought traditional clothing with her when she traveled to Mason from her native Uzbekistan to study finance. “I knew that there would be international events where I would be able to represent my country,” she says.

For the parade of cultures and nations, Mirzakarimova will put on embroidered garments, a beaded headdress, and carry her flag.

“I haven’t been home for one and a half years,” she says. “When I go up on stage and they call my country’s name, I feel very proud. For me, it means a lot.”

For a complete schedule of International Week events, see the OIPS web site.

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