International Week to blend global cultures with local experience

The Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO) will bring the traditions of countries around the globe to campus to celebrate their cultures and, in the aftermath of recent events, highlight the senseless violence that has occurred around the world.

COISO’s annual International Week (I-Week) will take place from April 4-8 on the Lakeside Patio, featuring this year’s theme of “the local experience.” With this concept, the event aims to take the campus community through a detailed exploration of different regions and discover the heart of these countries. That experience will start by honoring the countries reeling from terrorist attacks and remembering the fallen victims.

I-Week has held festivities on UM’s campus for more than 40 years. This year, though, the weeklong event will take a more solemn approach and focus on bringing awareness to the terror victims of these regions.

International Week Chair Aalekhya Reddam said the purpose of this year’s celebration was to highlight a different side to countries that were attacked and to show that they have thriving cities with rich cultures.

“We want to bring awareness to the plight. People tend to jump at different cultures and they say these things happen in Pakistan or so-called Muslim countries, Africa or other developing countries,” Reddam said. “I think that International Week shows another side to the countries [and] that it’s not just a place where terrorist attacks happen.”

This Friday, COISO will be selling customized I-Week shirts, accepting donations for victims of war and giving students a sneak peek of cultural foods that will be served throughout the five-day event. All funds raised will be donated to a humanitarian organization that benefits the victims.

“International Week has become more powerful because we have a cause behind it … In the past it was just an impact on UM. Now it’s in the world, in a small way,” Reddam said.

Reddam hopes the week will dismiss preconceived ideas people may hold about certain cultures.

“International Week breaks a lot of stereotypes and introduces them to a whole new culture. Some students also don’t have the option to study abroad, so we bring the country to them,” Reddam said.

Each day of the week will represent different regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Every evening at 5:30 p.m., tents with activities, games, educational materials and cultural items will be set up on the patio before cultural performances start at 7 p.m.

According to COISO President Maureen Tan, the multicultural arrays of food are always a hit with the audience and, when combined with activities and performances, have attracted an average of more than 500 guests per night.

“People are always excited to see what food will be offered. We always have a huge line,” Tan said. “Asia night is serving an interesting Japanese cake called urio. Similar to mochi and subtly sweet.”

COISO Vice President Avisha Gopalakrishna and her e-board came up with one of the tent activities after the recent terrorist attacks. Attendees will have the chance to write positive messages on letters and express their reflections for the victims.

Last fall, when terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked Paris, Beirut and a Russian charter plane, killing more than 300 people, COISO held a candlelight vigil to remember the fallen and stand in solidarity.

“There is a lot of hate going on in the world, but in International Week, we will bring different cultures together and show that there is not just hate; there is love, there is unity,” Gopalakrishna said. “We also want to show that terrorism has no religion and to show the love and compassion of cultures coming together.”