KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) – Food brings people together.
No matter where they’re from or what their background is, everyone enjoys a good meal.
That was evident Sunday during the 46th annual Scott D. Morris International Food and Cultural Festival. More than 1,000 people came together at the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Health and Sports Center to celebrate diversity while sampling a variety of dishes from across the globe.
Guests got to try Japanese fried chicken (karaage), Korean barbecue beef (bulgogi), Nepalese potato fritters (aloo chop), Kenyan deviled eggs (mayai pasua), Somalian fried meat pastries (sambusa), Mexican enchiladas and Italian tiramisu.
The menu also included pav bhaji, a vegetable curry served with bread. Pav bhaji is a popular street food in India, where Sunayn Cheku grew up.
“It’s something that’s very special to us. Everyone in India loves it, so we thought it would be a good dish to represent the country,” he said.
Cheku was among the more than 100 students who helped plan and execute the International Food and Cultural Festival, which is hosted by UNK’s International Student Association in collaboration with UNK Global. Like last year, he spent multiple days in the kitchen to get everything ready.
“I like sharing our food with other people and broadening their horizons a little bit,” said Cheku, a pre-medical student who’s studying molecular biology. “I think this event gives international students an opportunity to connect with people in Kearney, as well as the other way around. International students sometimes have a tendency to sort of group together and not reach out, but this is a good way to bridge that gap between the two communities.”
Tariro Chinhamo agrees.
He’s been part of the International Food and Cultural Festival the past three years and currently serves as president of the International Student Association. Chinhamo and the other committee members started planning this year’s event in August.
It’s a lot of work, the construction management major said, but well worth it when he sees everyone having a good time.
“This is an event where international students can just be themselves and showcase their food and cultures,” said Chinhamo, a junior from Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe.
“It’s so easy to get stuck in your own little bubble or your own little world and not know about everything that goes on in other countries or other cultures,” he added. “This event gives people that opportunity to experience other cultures, even if it’s just a taste.”
In addition to the mouthwatering cuisine, the festival featured a number of performances, along with other activities.
Marianna Ambriz performed a traditional “La Madrugada” dance from Guadalajara, Mexico, highlighting her family’s heritage.
“This is important to me because it’s part of my culture,” said Ambriz, a sophomore from Lexington who’s studying math education with an English as a second language endorsement. “I just love dancing it to show my culture to other people and hopefully have other people appreciate that culture.”
Ambriz called the support from campus and community members “really amazing.”
UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen also noted the great turnout while recognizing all the students involved in Sunday’s event.
“These are really tremendous students,” he said. “They’re not getting any credit for this. They’re not getting any good grades for this. They’re putting in their time, effort and energy to be part of the Kearney community, and that’s what’s so good about today. This is what the Kearney community is all about, the ability to engage the world.”
International students are a “really special part of UNK,” Kristensen added.
UNK has more than 3,700 international alumni from 65 countries, with around 300 international students currently attending the university.
“Kearney has been a great place for international students and this is our way of saying thank you to the community. That’s why students give up some sleep and study hours to plan this,” said Ryo Suzuki, a marketing, communication and recruitment specialist with UNK Global.
Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Suzuki was part of the International Food and Cultural Festival as an undergraduate student and he’s remained involved as a volunteer assistant over the years. This year, he served as the event chair.
“It’s kind of full circle at this point,” said Suzuki, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a management emphasis in 2016 and Master of Business Administration in 2019.
With support from Morris Printing Group of Kearney and UNK LoperNites, the International Food and Cultural Festival remains free for attendees.
“I hope everyone understands how lucky we are to have these international students on campus,” Suzuki said. “After this event, when they see students around the community, I hope they say hi and ask some questions, because our students want those interactions.”
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