The sounds of downtown Athens differed vastly from the usual hum of light traffic and chatter on Saturday, April 6. Traditional Chinese music chimed loudly amidst diverse songs emanating from College Avenue. Upon approaching, the sound was intermixed with smells of home-cooked Indian cuisine and Israeli snacks, along with other global good eats.
For its 20th year, the International Street Festival once again transformed the street with booths squeezed along the curb, proudly displaying its designated country’s flag and patriotic regalia. Beyond them was a stage, cycling through groups of international performers as fast as set changes would allow, then filling the bustling crowd below with awe and shrieks of excitement as both musical and acrobatic feats were achieved.
“Our mission is to internationalize the campus experience and that’s best done by supporting international students,” said Justin Jeffrey, director of International Student Life at the University of Georgia. “The majority is organizations advised by ISL … but where we see the most community involvement is the performances.”
Jeffrey said residents of Athens who want to celebrate their ethnicity or culture in this way will often participate along with the UGA international student body.
“You don’t realize how many cultures comprise UGA’s community,” Rebecca Wilson, a UGA sophomore studying international affairs, said.
The festival hosted booths showcasing cultures from nations like Nepal, China, Israel, Africa, Taiwan and Russia.
Throughout the event, students and Athens residents found not only community but an understanding of the diversity within their own culture, as well as the others, represented.
“Some of us are doing it for political reasons — some are Christian some are Muslim,” Wilson said. “Everyone has ties for different reasons.”
Vendors, encouraged by the overwhelming interest in their respective culture, described their countries and why it’s so important to have organizations that facilitate community.
“When you don’t have a lot of intercultural understanding, it might be hard to understand why somebody might be asking something versus another thing,” Elizabeth Henderson, a senior at UGA studying Russian, finance and international business, said.
It’s this understanding that provides the interracial relational component that draws so many people to participate in cultural gatherings, according to Henderson and other members at her booth.
Most vendors expressed similar motives and engaged in conversation to spread awareness that diversity exists in an area with a majority white demographic.
The tables were full of photos, traditional clothing, food and stencils used to practice Taiwanese and Cyrillic. Organizations held pamphlets on the major religions in their countries and spoke with the desire to inform listeners about the place they call home.
“They might not be familiar with how things work here, and it’s good to have some people already there to help out, said” Song Lin Lou, a graduate student and member of the Vietnamese Student Association.
At the closing of the event attendees said they appreciated learning about the different cultures at the festival.
“It really made me appreciate and recognize not just how cool our world is but also how diverse Athens alone is,” Rachel Gaston, a UGA freshman studying management and international business, said.