Monday, October 9, 2017

Susan Koch: International Festival a 40-year tradition of diversity and education

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on October 8, 2017.

The Fall 2017 calendar at UIS is, more than ever, brimming with inviting events for students, faculty, staff and campus visitors. Myriad entertainment options at Sangamon Auditorium, guest speakers examining a wide variety of timely issues, and a full slate of Division II athletic contests provide almost daily opportunities for engagement, learning and enjoyment. 

In addition to all of the above, a very special event will occur on Nov. 3 when TRAC (The Recreation and Athletic Center) will be transformed into a global festival grounds. It’s the 40th anniversary of the UIS International Festival — the longest running student-led event in the history of the campus. 

The story of the festival starts with Gerlinde Coates, who served as the University’s first Director of the Office of International Student Services. 

In 1977, Coates was employed in the campus Learning Center helping international students improve their English. She proposed an international potluck as a way to acquaint the campus and the Springfield community with the “beautiful cultural assets” that international students represent ... and the rest, as they say, is history! 

That potluck in 1977, attended by a small number of enthusiastic guests, has grown to become a major campus/community celebration — much loved by hundreds of participants who come to enjoy international food tasting, cultural exhibits, demonstrations and artistic performances from around the world. 

At the same time, the number of international students attending UIS has increased — with more than 600 students from 42 countries enrolled this fall. 

Erika Suzuki, program coordinator in International Student Services at UIS, is leading the Festival Planning Committee. “With our increasingly interconnected world, developing a better understanding of different cultures has never been more important than it is today,” says Suzuki. “We’re especially excited about this year’s festival theme — ‘Anniversaries’ — and we’re looking forward to what our community partners, exhibitors and performers will do to feature the theme.” 

Suzuki also reports that international alumni have received special invitations for this year’s celebration and she is hopeful some will return to campus to enjoy the celebration and see how the campus has grown since they graduated. 

Hilary Frost, UIS faculty member and chair of the Global Studies Program, is also a member of the Festival Planning Committee. “It’s important that we create opportunities to recognize and celebrate diversity,” says Dr. Frost. “The International Festival is a terrific opportunity to see worlds and cultures come together and share through languages, foods, arts, performances and personal stories. The Festival is a signature event that amplifies the many international studies courses across the entire curriculum at UIS.” 

The International Festival is free and welcomes guests of all ages. Festival activities begin at 5 p.m. and conclude at 8 p.m. Friday, November 3, in TRAC. Please consider this your personal invitation!

Read the entire column online.