International Night gives Wilkes a taste of culture

Kat Dodson, Staff Writer

“I came to this school very excited but not sure that I was going to find that Ghanaian culture or find any Ghanaians here,” freshman biology major Adoma Yeboah said. “So when I found out about the West African Cultural Alliance, I decided to join early on.  They told me that there was going to be an International Night, which I was very excited about.”
Yeboah represented Ghana at this year’s International Night, an event that allowed students of all nationalities to celebrate and share their heritage with others with homemade food, artifacts or performances, and which recently celebrated its second birthday on Saturday, Oct. 29.
“The original idea came from Amy Mbye and Evene Estwick,” Assistant Director of International Students Felixa Wingen said.  “They started talking about it about a year and a half ago.  We sat down and planned it for last year and thought, ‘We should do this every year.’”
Mbye, an administrative assistant in the engineering department, explained that the idea came from her daughter’s school, which holds an annual International Dinner.  “I went there a couple of times,” she said, “and I thought, ‘We can do the same thing on campus.  If a smaller school like Wyoming Seminary can do it, Wilkes can do it.’”
Mbye said she spoke with Estwick, an associate professor of communication studies, and members of other departments, all of whom were supportive.  They held the first International Night last year and were pleasantly surprised by a turnout of over 120 students attending and 28 countries represented.  Wingen and Mbye said this initial success motivated them to continue.
At the event, students cover tables with items such as traditional homemade food, pictures of or artwork and crafts from the country they represent, national flags, currency, posters and pamphlets containing facts about the country, maps, and traditional jewelry.  Many wear traditional garb to the event.
“Everybody signs up for a table, and with that table you can do whatever you want,” Wingen said. “Some people go all out.
Additionally, this year’s Saudi Arabian and Chinese tables offered to write students’ names in the national languages of their countries.  All the while, a playlist crafted by participants plays authentic music from each country represented.  Students occasionally become so enthused that they burst into spontaneous dancing.
Cofounders and participants alike feel that the multicultural awareness represented by International Night is important and deserves recognition by the campus community.
“I think it’s great to take a moment to really celebrate all the diversity we have at Wilkes,” Wingen said.  “A lot of times people think that Wilkes is not very diverse.  An event like this kind of highlights what’s out there.”
Mbye added, “We have a lot of people from different countries on campus.  You don’t really see it in the classroom. So the best way to bring everybody together is doing something like this that gives people a chance to mingle and talk to each other.”
Culture is of high importance to Yeboah, who said she was delighted by the chance to share her heritage with others and cook one of Ghana’s staple foods, jollof rice.
Although the event has already met with success two years in a row — both Wingen and Mbye were pleased with this year’s turnout, considering the unexpected snowfall — the co-founders express plans to expand and improve the event even more.
“It would be nice to eventually have performances from a bunch of different people and give it more structure,” Wingen said.  “I hope that we continue to do this every year at Wilkes, more people participate and it grows, and eventually we have every single country represented that is at Wilkes.”
Mbye said she would like to see the event extend beyond the Wilkes campus and have the whole Wilkes-Barre community get involved.  She also mentioned she’d like more faculty members to participate.
“There are a lot of faculty who are international.  So it would be nice to see them get involved,” she says.  “That would be an encouragement for the students.  I think the administration should get involved, too.”
Countries represented at this year’s International Night included the United States, Mexico, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, India, Bangladesh, China, Barbados, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, St. Lucía, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and Gambía.