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UVU Column: UVU continues tradition of International Festival

February 24, 2019

Community members are invited to Utah Valley University’s annual International Festival. The family fun event will be from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 9 in the Grande Ballroom of the university’s Sorensen Center. Admission is free.

The festival is in its 15th year and has been increasingly popular since its inception. The UVU International Student Council created the festival with booths from various countries and entertainment on the main stage. Other events at different locations often focus on one culture, but UVU’s takes a broader approach.

“The format hasn’t changed a ton,” said Stephen Crook, director of international student services at UVU. There hasn’t been a reason to change it, as it started out as a popular, well-attended event. “I think the students were surprised how popular it was from the start.”

When they saw how many families attended the event, the students decided to include activities like games for children. Booths represent different countries and offer those games, along with dance instruction, snacks and informational handouts.

There has always been entertainment, but this year, there’s added excitement. Stefanie Roper, a professional dancer in New York and a UVU alumna, will be featured, along with student performers from various nations.

Before and after the 7 p.m. entertainment, some of the students will be dressed in their native attire and walk around the ballroom to answer questions about their culture and be available for photos with the attendees. They will also participate in a fashion show, displaying the costumes of their heritage.

“Our goal is to have an event where there is this exchange,” Crook said. “The students are sharing their culture, their language, dance, food and more. There is this learning and fun. Fun is a big goal of it, also to learn and exchange ideas, to enjoy entertainment that is different than maybe you would see in your normal course of life.”

“It is a fun activity for families and anyone who wants to have a different experience,” said Ana Farias, international student adviser at UVU. “We also get families whose kids are in dual language programs. Last year I met several families who came for just that reason.”

Members of the public have enjoyed the festival, and so have the student who participate in it.

“The students get a lot out of it because they can share,” he said. “They are not making money and it is not part of their grade. They just love where they are from and they want people to appreciate it.”

Students take the lead in creating the festival, with guidance from the staff of International Student Services.

The international festival has been a popular event on the UVU campus through its 15 years of existence.

“This university is about inclusion,” Farias said. “The international students want to be included but they also want to share who they are and who they represent. This festival gives them that voice.”

Even though participation is not required for a class and does not affect their grade, the students enjoy preparing for and putting on the festival, Farias said.

“For many, it is an exciting thing,” she said. “I see them getting ready for it and they are excited to anticipate it.”

The festival has also been popular with the public, and Crook suggested a possible reason.

“Utah Valley is a unique place,” he said. “The demographics are fairly uniform but we have international interests embedded here. Lots of people have an interest in international things. I think there is interest in the festival because of that.”

Crook said both the festival and the department offer their thanks to the university’s administration.

“We appreciate all the support we get from UVU,” he said. “President (Astrid S.) Tuminez is not from the United States herself. Kyle Reyes, the vice president of student affairs, is also of Philippine heritage, and encourages the production of the festival.”

“The UVU International Festival is a powerful opportunity for cultural engagement,” Reyes said. “I am so proud of the student leaders on UVU’s International Student Council for planning this amazing event.”