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The Roanoke Times

Culture and diversity abound at Virginia Tech’s Street Fair

See this story in The Roanoke Times

Photo by Daniel Lin | Special to The Roanoke Times

College Avenue was transformed into a cultural hot spot as thousands came to participate in the 53rd annual Virginia Tech International Street Fair on Saturday.

The event originated as a potluck for a handful of international students, said Kim Beisecker, director of the Cranwell International Center, the advising group for the event. An estimated 10,000 people gathered for this year’s street fair, where the theme was Hokies Without Borders.

“We wanted to convey the message that when international students are here, they really are all Hokies without division between them,” Beisecker said.

Hosted by the Council of International Student Organizations, the international street fair consisted of 59 student groups, 40 of which prepared food ranging from bubble tea and pina coladas to kabobs and falafel. Each organization was required to take a food safety training class in order to serve food at the event.

The focus of the event isn’t on the food, but to teach people about cultures that aren’t their own, said Lyndsy Manz, assistant director for the Cranwell International Center.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to showcase their cultures and see how diverse the Virginia Tech community is,” said Manz.

As of fall 2011, international students made up about 10 percent of the student body, Manz said. The Cranwell International Center and the Council of International Student Organizations were established to welcome and receive all international students to the community, Manz said, and this one of many events they hold each year.

Though the street fair fell on the same day as The Big Event, a student-run community service effort, they collaborated as much as possible to ensure that students could partake in both and that each would have enough volunteers, Manz said.

Students carried 100 flags to the Drillfield for the “Parade of Nations” as part of the opening ceremony for The Big Event.

Photo by Daniel Lin | Special to The Roanoke Times

About 25 groups took the stage throughout the day, with performances, dances, music and fashion from all over the world.

“It’s important to celebrate diversity in Blacksburg,” Beisecker said. “As a small town, we often forget how diverse we are.”

Manz said the street fair provides an outlet for people in the rest of the area to celebrate their cultures as well.

Members of the Chinese Club at Radford University worked with the Blacksburg Chinese School to raise money for both institutions, and Hollins University of Roanoke bussed in students to participate.

The international street fair gives all students an opportunity to display the knowledge of their heritage and share it with others, Beisecker said. Some students’ parents came to town for the event and even helped prepare food.

Several organizations set up booths to promote and raise funds for philanthropic causes such as the Virginia Tech chapters of Oxfam America and Students Helping Honduras.

Ana Jaramillo and Milton Salcedo, who came from Colombia to get degrees from Virginia Tech, said the Virginia Tech community is very welcoming to international students. They said that groups such as the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, along with the Council of International Student Organizations and the Cranwell International Center, help international students adjust to the area and feel at home.

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