The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | A Few Clouds

International Fair

Students learn about other cultures and show off their own.

By Aaron D. Mihalik

The International Students Association transformed Johnson Athletic Center into a cultural smorgasbord last Friday for its annual International Fair.

For many people, the most notable piece of the I-fair was the exposure to foods from other cultures. The I-fair gave many people exposure to new and exciting cultural dishes, and almost every student group at the I-fair offered a variety of authentic cultural dishes. The money from the sale of the food, in turn, helps the student groups fund activities, including cultural dinners, celebration of cultural holidays, and study breaks.

Many students perform at I-fair

Aside from the eclectic array of food, international clubs at MIT expressed their cultures in other ways. The most conspicuous method was a performance on the large stage set up on the indoor track. Many clubs used the performance opportunity to display their cultures’ styles of clothing and dancing. Throughout the day there were a number of performances representing different cultures.

“We had 17 performances plus a fashion show,” said Buddhika N. Kottahachchi ’02, an I-fair organizer. “While most of the performers were students... a few student groups brought in professional performers,” Kottahachchi said. “The final performance by the South Asian students titled ‘Bhangra’ drew a very positive response.”

At every booth, students shared information about their cultures. At one booth, for instance, a zealous Canadian, attired in a superhero costume complete with a red maple leaf on his chest and a white-with-red maple leaf Zorro mask to conceal his identity, talked about the sport of curling. Curling is basically shuffle board on ice, played with brooms and a “big ass rock,” he said.

On the other side of the room, Cypriot students passed out picture-filled brochures of their beautiful island while inviting students to snack on desserts. Adjacent to the Cypriot students was an impressive display of Taiwanese hand puppets.

Wide representation at I-fair

Over 40 clubs participated in the I-fair. “Not only clubs representing various cultures but others such as [Share a Vital Earth] (the MIT environmentalists’ club), which concerns the whole world, also took part,” said Kottahachchi. “We also had about two clubs taking part for the very first time at I-fair, which is encouraging.”

Each participating group was given a booth. While all groups decorated their booths with cultural symbols and posters, many groups also sold food representative of their cultures and distributed information packets and brochures.

“In this booth, [the groups] are encouraged to create a miniature version of their communit[ies],” Kottahachchi said. “In addition to this, the clubs can perform a dance or act representing their culture or take part in the fashion show. This year, we introduced a new item -- where every country shows off their countries’ flag[s] at the end of the day,” Kottahachchi added.

Nearly 3000 people attended the I-fair, indicating that this year’s I-fair was as successful as previous I-fairs, despite bad weather and a last-minute venue change. The organizers “were warned against holding it indoors since it was thought that many wouldn’t attend,” Kottahachchi said. However, “when CAC said they couldn’t give us power outlets at Kresge [Oval], it was a shock.” The I-fair publicity committee resorted to making a last-minute effort to poster the location change around campus.

I-fair brings community together

The international student community is quite large at MIT. According to the International Student Office, there are over 2200 international students at MIT. Since its creation in 1976, the ISA has used its resources to promote the diverse international community at MIT.

The ISA “brings MIT students from all countries together to celebrate and share their cultures,” Kottahachchi said.

ISA began the I-fair “in order to provide a forum where [international] students could both educate others about their rich cultural heritages as well as learn about other cultures,” Kottahachchi said. “I-fair continues to be the only event that covers the globe in this manner. In fact, the theme of I-fair is ‘Bringing the World Together’.”

The outcomes of this and past I-fairs have been very successful for both the participating organizations and the students who visit the forum. For the MIT community it helps students “develop understanding and tolerance of people from other cultures... [and to] learn to appreciate their uniqueness,” Kottahachchi said. The I-fair provides the participants with “an opportunity to dress up in their traditional clothes, act like they would at home, and educate and learn in the process. The benefits of participation are easy to see, and that is why so many clubs participate.”