The five-day-long International Week (I-Week) ended with Asia Night on Thursday and Island Styles on Friday night, drawing the largest crowds of the week. Alumni who returned to partake in the annual celebration of cultures were full of praise for the week of events.
Each year, the tradition has served as a homecoming for alumni of the Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO), the organizers of the event. More than 30 alumni attended events throughout the week and all of them gathered at a banquet on Saturday to officially end I-Week.
Hope Hua, who was the 2014-15 president of COISO and graduated in 2015, went to the banquet to celebrate COISO’s achievements throughout the year. These include the international dance competition in the fall, its participation in Homecoming and the continuation of I-Week, which has been an annual UM tradition for more than 40 years.
“It’s really great to come back to see the old and new faces,” Hua said. “It’s interesting to see the new events and really exciting to see the growth and camaraderie that is still strong.”
Lorna Castillo, the chair of I-Week in 2011 and a 2013 graduate, was taken down memory lane as she returned for the event she once organized.
“I remember as a student being excited for I-Week, and now coming back as an alumni [sic], seeing the same reactions from other students. While traditions may change, the same excitement and feeling that I-Week gives is still the same,” Castillo said.
I-Week has a history of showcasing different cultures from around the world, and Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely commended COISO for this at the banquet. Whitely also congratulated the student organization for a successful year and highlighted what they offered throughout the week.
“The richness that international students bring to the campus and how we are such a diverse university,” Whitely said.
Vibrant events in central locations have made I-Week a popular tradition on campus. According to COISO executives, the I-Week Facebook page received 500 additional likes during the five days of events, most of which came during their most popular nights, Thursday and Friday.
Thursday’s Asia Night drew a crowd particularly quickly. Five minutes after officially opening on the Lakeside Patio, each tent was swarmed with people trying to experience the different cultural activities of China, India, South Korea and many other countries. Students got henna tattoos, made their own rangoli – an Indian form of art that uses colored rice to make a pattern – had their names written in calligraphy and learned their Chinese names. There was also a chance to get massages, which drew a long line.
“Sakura massage was helpful, to come out, to teach students Asian technique in massages, to show how the cultures of Asia has disseminated into our culture today,” said Nishi Patel, the chair of Asia Night.
Asia Night was crowned the best night of this year’s I-Week, judged by a panel of 20 members that included UM administrators and COISO alumni. Patel was also individually recognized with a “best night chair” award from COISO’s executive board.
Thursday’s performance featured a storyline that parodied the classic Chinese tale “Journey to the West.” In the modernized version, a monk took a college student on a tour of different Asian countries to “enlighten” the student.
The acts included traditional dances from Japan, China and India. COISO alumna Kamila Orlova said the performance was a hit with the crowd.
“Everything that I was watching was amazing, from the costume details to the facial expression. You can sense the teamwork between the dancers and the audience loved it,” Orlova said.
Orlova, who was the Europe night chair in 2015, was among the panelists and gave Asia Night her highest approval. Her favorite performance was Hurricane Bhangra, UM’s bhangra dance team that stole the show with an energetic Punjabi dance.
“The energy from [Hurricane Bhangra] was amazing, it was so well done and was just great to watch,” Orlova said.
Castillo came to campus on Friday to see Island Styles, which was the second most popular day during I-Week. The night showcased cultures from the Philippines and Hawaii, and was organized by the Filipino Student Association (FSA) and Hui Aloha, the Hawaiian student organization.
Castillo applauded the execution of Friday night’s performances, including the binasuan, a Filipino folk dance in which performers balance cups of water on each hand and on their heads. Students also performed maglalatik, a Filipino dance that uses coconuts worn as vests as an instrument. Castillo’s personal favorite was the tinikling dance that features two people beating, tapping and sliding two bamboo sticks on the ground while another dancer weaves gracefully between them.
“The complexity makes the dance appreciative, and the energy and synchronization gave the audience a taste of the culture,” Castillo said.
The last two nights did receive one common complaint from attendees: the food lines were too long. More than 120 attendees waited for a taste of the food each night, according to I-Week chair Aalekhya Reddam.
UM alumnus and 2013-14 COISO Chair Andres Morfin said he enjoyed the food I-Week offered.
“What makes I-Week popular is the food; everyone comes to try some. It says a lot about a culture and I enjoyed what COISO served. The food seems to get better and better each year,” Morfin said.
During the banquet, Reddam expressed her thanks to COISO for helping her organize I-Week and said that they fulfilled what they set out to do.
“We wanted to give the campus the local experience, a taste of what each region could offer, and I know we have done just that,” Reddam said.