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Flavorful fair offers gateway to cultures of the world

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NORMAL - The first International Fair at Illinois State University consisted of a few displays set up in the old student union.

Now in its 35th year, International Fair - held in the Bone Student Center ballroom - was awash in the bright colors of sarongs and sarees Sunday afternoon, the aroma of Thai chicken hanging in the air.

"This started as a way for the international students to showcase their cultures here at ISU," said Marilyn Boyd, program coordinator of the International House. "Now it's kind of a gateway activity to lower people's inhibitions about other cultures…so that they will ask more questions and become more comfortable."

Boyd said the two-day fair is student run, and involves year-round planning. She said the event's effects on people could never be measured, but that everyone who comes takes something away with them.

"Everyone here today is going to have some kind of experience, and we'll never know just how it changes them," she said. "Whether they are inspired to travel internationally or be a host parent, there's going to be some effect from this one positive experience."

Sarah Jome, associate director of International Studies and programs, said that every international student is so excited to share his or her culture with others.

"Students are so anxious to let you sample their food and you can hardly say 'no,'" she said. "There's just this joy about them. They just love this (the fair)."

Mary Harris and her son Preston, 12, of Normal were eating Thai chicken and chips with refried beans at a table near the stage. Mary Harris said they came last year so that Preston could get some ideas about Japanese culture for a school project. The pair had such a good time, they came back again this year, she said.

"We've learned about the different cultural dances and dress," Mary Harris said. "And the food is great, too."

Preston Harris said his favorite part was the entertainment onstage and getting to eat foods he wouldn't normally eat.

Eric Schuller, of Bloomington said the last time he came to the fair was in 1985.

"This is a great way to get the (international) students involved in the community," he said. "Otherwise they could come here, earn their degrees and we would never know they had even been here."

Mary Boyd agreed.

"The first I-house was in Watterson Towers and students felt kind of shut away," she said. "But the fair helped change that."

Schuller said this serves as great way to get cultures to interact.

"Kids come in here and get hooked into it," he said. "Who knows? They may go abroad for a semester or study a foreign language because of today."


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