Residents and students celebrate cultural diversity

INCORPORATING CULTURE: Members of the Ferris State University Dance Team blended hip-hop and traditional Indian dancing to create a Bollywood in Big Rapids feel during their performance at the Festival of Cultures. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

INCORPORATING CULTURE: Members of the Ferris State University Dance Team blended hip-hop and traditional Indian dancing to create a Bollywood in Big Rapids feel during their performance at the Festival of Cultures. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

BIG RAPIDS — Hundreds of area residents enjoyed an intercontinental buffet Sunday at Ferris State University.

The residents, along with several hundred Ferris students were participating in the 28th Festival of Cultures.

“This is a celebration of all the different cultures we have on campus,” said Lisa VonReichbauer, assistant director of the Office of International Education. “We currently have more than 500 international students from 40 different countries here on campus.

“We celebrate all those different cultures by preparing recipes through collaboration with the dining services here at Ferris – they work very closely with the international students to scale up their recipes to feed hundreds of people.”

The event also included live entertainment, children’s activities sponsored by Artworks and a collection of displays of cultural information.

“We want to showcase everything our international students are doing,” VonReichbauer said.

The festival serves a number of purposes for a variety of people.

“It’s important in two ways,” VonReichbauer said. “For one, Ferris is in Big Rapids, which is a little more of a rural community. We invite the whole area, promoting the event in schools from Lakeview to Reed City and invite families from the area so they can travel the world in an afternoon right here in Big Rapids.  It’s a great way for the community to understand how many cultures we have here on campus.

“For our international students, this is a day where they really get to celebrate and share their culture,” she continued. “Obviously the food is very fun, but my favorite part as assistant director is seeing the pride that our international students have in sharing their culture.”

A lot of planning went into making the festival happen, including working with students and various embassies, according to Tarun Jonnala, an international student from India who helped coordinate the event.

“Most of the local community really likes knowing other people,” he said. “In the same way, most of the international students want to share their culture with other people. This is the best place to do both things.”

The Ferris State University Dance Team was among the groups who performed Sunday. The group thought it was important to embrace the international theme and added some Indian-influenced moves to their routine, according to team member Katie Schut.

“When we decided we were going to perform at the festival, we thought it would be good to put a cultural element in to go with the event,” she said.  “We had fun doing the hip-hop portion and learning the Indian style was really cool.”

“It was a lot of fun,” said Mary Schuler, student coach and president of the team. “We like celebrating Ferris’ diversity.”

The festival is a lot of fun for the international students and the other attendees, according to student Buse Yilmaz.

“I think it’s really fun to see people from other countries. I’m the only person from Turkey, but when I see that there are also other people who are living in a culture like I do, I don’t feel as lonely as I usually do. It’s like I’m sharing something with all of them,” she said. “It’s really nice to see all of the local people so interested in different cultures – I ran out of food at my table.”

It’s important to celebrate culture and family, according to Jeff Newlove, who visited the festival with his wife, son and daughter.

“The kids get a kick out of it, the dancing and all the different activities,” he said.

Danielle Knopsnyder, Newlove’s daughter, said she liked visiting the festival, eating, dancing and having her name written in Arabic.

“I also got a good luck charm. I wasn’t shy at all and I was dancing almost on the stage,” she said. “It really does bring good luck.”

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Posted by Adam Gac

Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at agac@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8347.

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