On Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, over 50 countries were represented in the 44th annual International Festival held at UNC Charlotte. With over 16,000 people in attendance, the festival is also one of the largest attended events on campus by students, even more so than football games.
Inside the Barnhardt Student Activity Center, there were many country booths such as France, Guyana and Lebanon. Opera Carolina, a Celtic Folk Band, Hula Carolina, and Trabucos Latin Band performed at the inside stage. For the Festival for Music and Dance on the arena floor, the audience experienced a diverse set of dances from Bollywood to Kurdish dancing. The earth balloon and Parade of Nations is a highlight for many of the attendees every year.
Outside, a savory aroma filled the air and the sound of sizzling pans could be heard from multiple booths cooking ethnic food. At the outside stage, there were African FolkTales told and a Carribean drums performance. Many were involved at the International Game Zone where they could play archery or life-sized chess. Players from Charlotte Independence were also there to play soccer and sign autographs. Sponsors, such as the Super G Mart, were also present outside along with the Arts and Science Council who provided a grant for the festival this year.
From South Korea’s kimchi to Armenia’s baklava, there was an abundance of delicious ethnic food available for purchase. Booths were colorfully decorated with an array of food, art, costumes, jewelry and activities like getting henna tattoos. Each country shared their culture in unique ways as seen through Iran’s santoor, a musical instrument, and the Hebrew alphabet puzzle at Israel’s booth. Over the past couple of years, there has been a new trend where more Charlotte community groups have booths, and this year, other universities such as UNC Pembroke even attended.
For Gregory Shaw, a 7th grade social studies teacher at Jay M. Robinson Middle School, this was his 25th year attending the festival. Shaw encourages his students to attend the event as part of an assignment and said, “The best part about it is seeing my students getting exposed to different cultures and learning what they cannot from a textbook.”
Many students from UNC Charlotte, such as freshman Julianne Torio, were excited to share the culture and food of their birthplace with the attendees.
Representing Palestine, Noor Alashi was inspired by “seeing everybody wanting to learn more about her family’s and ancestor’s history.”
After the on-campus shooting in April, there was increased security this year at every entrance into the festival around the Barnhardt Student Activity Center.
Dr. Joe Hoff, Director of Global Education and Engagement and Chair of the International Festival, sees the event as “a way to help the international community feel like they belong.” For the coming years, Hoff hopes to see more UNC Charlotte Alumni getting involved to help put on the festival.
Reflecting on the importance of the International Festival, Hoff said, “It’s a wonderful event that brings people from all different backgrounds together and celebrates the diversity of Charlotte.”