As the sun dipped behind Lummi Island across Bellingham Bay from Western’s campus, students, faculty and community members from many corners of the world came together to celebrate one another with food, music, dancing and games as Language and Culture Programs (LCP) hosted its fall International Culture Night on Friday, Nov. 1, in the Viking Union MPR.
Omar Harb Michel, an LCP international student advisor and the organizer of the event, said the goal of International Culture Night is to give students the opportunity to engage in cross-cultural conversations and enjoy games and artwork that expand their worldview.
“We are always touched and inspired by our many international students who are willing to put themselves in front of the community and not only share pieces of their culture with us but their personal stories and who they are,” he said.
Greeted at the door by LCP staff, attendees were given name tags and embarked on their tour. All around the room were tables set up by students in the various programs with traditional art, food and information about their cultures. Harb Michel said it is like taking a “mini world tour.”
Rachel Kearney, a student staff member who has been involved with LCP since her freshman year in 2015, thought the event was a success.
“We had such a great student and community turn-out,” she said. “New groups involved that had not been before, cool dance performances, and so much good food that it ran out very quickly!”
Kearney wants to see the event expand as time continues, with a larger venue that would attract a greater turnout. “It would be cool to have more performances and invite more cultures to have booths to share food, music, art and other traditions.”
Harb Michel said the underlying hope of the event is for students to leave the event with a deep sense of appreciation and respect for people of diverse and international backgrounds.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have international students and cultures in our community,” Harb Michel said. “It’s critical that we celebrate that and send the message that they are welcomed and valued at Western.”
WWU President Sabah Randhawa and his wife Uzma Ahmad also attended the event. Ahmad said she was very excited when she walked into the room for Culture Night. There were many people together playing games, eating food, talking and laughing.
“It didn’t feel like anybody was treating each other as a stranger or someone different,” she said.
“It was exciting for me to see that people feel there is a place where they can feel comfortable in writing their names in their native languages,” Ahmad said.
She said when students come from different cultures to study here, sometimes they put their culture aside to embrace the new culture they are learning about. She said protecting their heritage is important for students’ personal grounding and emotional health.
“When you have a chance to share your culture with other people, it gives you a feeling of pride,” she said. Additionally, she said students get to show they are not just individuals struggling with a new language or culture, but that they have a wealth of knowledge, life experiences and a rich heritage that they can share with and enrich our community.
“I think the fact that more non-international students attended, and even the university president, was fantastic,” said Sophie Chang, another LCP student staff.
Chang has wanted to see further involvement between LCP and the greater Western community since she’s been with the program. “I think we did a much better job of it this year,” she said.
“The value of International Culture Night truly extends far beyond a fun celebration, it's also a critical opportunity to build bridges of understanding across difference and reflect on the fact that we are all members of a shared world community,” Harb Michel said.
Ahmad said she hopes to see more domestic Western students attending cultural events like these. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly international to visit different cultures, Ahmad said.
“By exposing ourselves to different cultures, our world starts to get wider,” Ahmad said. “We are open to more creativity and to embracing and exploring new ideas.”