FORT SMITH — It's unfortunate that the world doesn't work like International Festival which was held Saturday (April 14) at the Stubblefield Center on the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith campus. Thirty-six countries were represented without any politics, enemies or tension encroaching on the educational opportunity provided for guests to learn about the cultures from around the world.
Thousands gathered during the free two-hour event to talk with students and faculty at the booths. Many of the stands were manned by international students — 150 attend UAFS, while other ambassadors were born in foreign countries or are of foreign descent. Upon entering, guests were given a mock passport to be stamped at each booth. The first 100 people to present a completely stamped passport earned a free UAFS water bottle.
Each booth featured display boards highlighting the country's culture, customs, traditions, geography and more pertinent facts. Some stands had relevant art or videos displayed. Food and drinks were available in exchange for a ticket worth $1. Countries with cuisine were: Ireland, Rwanda, the United States, El Salvador, the Czech Republic and South Korea. Blaze'n Burrito also contributed with chips, queso and salsa. Tables were set up throughout the arena for guests to take a break and eat.
Performances were scheduled on stage throughout the event. Japan and Ireland showcased dances; Korea displayed costumes, dance and Taekwondo; Cold Water Dog played Celtic music and the Jesus Man Gospel Band performed bluegrass gospel; a violin recital was conducted by students of the Suzuki School of Fort Smith and Meng Thao put on a magic show.
Takeo Suzuki, executive director for international relations at UAFS, said International Festival started five years ago when Chancellor Paul Berran and his wife Janice had the idea to celebrate diversity on campus and within the community.
"We really like to help people, students [and] understand that this is a beautiful world and everybody has something that they are very proud of [within] their culture. This day is a really good day for us to celebrate differences and similarities among people in this greater Fort Smith [region]," said Suzuki.
The event continues to grow each year with more and more people attending. Suzuki said he would like to see increased sponsorship from area restaurants since the food served at the event must come from a restaurant due to health and safety regulations.