195 flags — one for every country of the world — were strung all throughout the Harre Union ballrooms. These flags were hung up on Feb. 4 as part of the Valparaiso International Student Association’s (VISA) 43rd annual World Banquet.
The event included performances from Valpo students, food from local restaurants, music, dancing and a Parade of Nations ceremony in which attendees paraded flags of all different countries across the stage in a great multi-cultural celebration.
This year’s event lasted three hours and welcomed nearly 200 in attendance. The event was advertised through social media and email primarily, and tickets were sold for $10 at the Union Welcome Desk.
“It was a really successful event. Every year we host the World Banquet, and so this one was just an improvement from what we’ve been doing the past years. This time our ticket system was really efficient because we were able to reserve about 300 tickets that we were selling, which is more [than past years],” said Kudakwashe Chikonyora, Treasurer of VISA. “Coming from COVID-19, we didn’t have a lot of people come to events, but this time we went all-out. We were able to get a huge turnout; we were not able to sell all the tickets, but we [had] a huge turnout.”
A main goal of the 2023 World Banquet was to outsource food from local restaurants as opposed to going with Parkhurst catering like in years past. This year’s event featured dishes from around the area such as Don Quijote, Namaste India and Five Star Thai cuisine and grocery.
“Last year unfortunately we weren’t able to bring more cultural food, traditional food from different places — we just used Parkhurst food, which was good but it wasn’t very traditional. This year, that was honestly a huge improvement because that’s the whole theme of the World Banquet: having different traditions and promoting different cultures, so it was great doing that,” said Nour AlHajjeh, Secretary of VISA.
In terms of performances, there were nearly a dozen acts with each act featuring different regions around the world such as Native America, Mexico, China, the Andes, Nepal, Africa, India, Japan and China. Local community groups included the Jasmine Dance Team, and student performers included Jake Miller, Lucia Otten, Pooja Chhetri, Sandhya Bhandari, Prerana Thapa, Martha Aponbiede, Iso Ogli, Negede Wondimu, Yabstega Tamene Wolde, Andy Mugabo, Fatimatou Bah, Kudakwashe Chikonyora, Sara Tewoldemedhin, Timi Sanyaolu, Andy Mogabo, Maxine Osore, Amar Agrawal, Anand Agrawal and Tiger Liu Kumar.
“The African students on campus, we did like an African fashion show,” Chikonyora said. “So people from different countries — I’m from Zimbabwe, with people from Ethiopia, people from Guinea, Nigeria … and Rwanda and Kenya as well — were able to come up together and then wear our dressings from our cultures … We walked on the stage and showed people our dance moves which represents our culture, and that was also a favorite of the crowd.”
The Parade of Nations, the last act of the night, included the audience.
“At the end, we did the Parade of Nations because the motivation of the theme of our event was the World Cup,” Chikonyora said. “We basically wanted to include everybody in the performance, so everybody who attended the World Banquet basically performed as well. We had every country in the world’s map in the room; we had been putting them [the flags] on the walls [of the Harre Union Ballrooms].”
To form the parade, each attendee could choose a flag they wanted to represent from all of the flags VISA’s staff hung on the walls. From there, audience members could bring their flag onto the main stage.
“[The event] was a bit longer than usual,” AlHajjeh said. “Honestly it felt like people were really engaging and they were happy, so I think that shows something special this year. When everyone [grabbed] their own flag … there was this long line of people where everyone was bringing their flag, and everyone [wanted] to go up on stage so it [took] longer — but that also shows more engagement and more good time[s].”
To spread word of the event beforehand, VISA’s executive board members asked faculty members as well as student organizations and other individuals to join in for the celebration. In addition to Valpo faculty, members of student organizations on campus such as Latinx in Valparaiso for Excellence (LIVE) and Black Student Organization (BSO) were present.
Some organizations were even part of a performance themselves.
“Another organization, called the African Students Association (ASA), were able to also come up and support through doing the African show performance. So that was another highlight,” Chikonyora said.
Overall, the event was a raving success with great food, music and community across cultures.
“If we come together as different cultures at this school then we can learn more about each other, raise awareness about each other,” Chikonyora said.
The World Banquet, this year and every year, serves as a space to celebrate cultural diversity.
“The World Banquet event in general just showed that we bring everybody together in solidarity and make the international community feel at home outside of home,” Chikonyora said.
Designed as a space to celebrate and represent every culture, the World Banquet invites all students to come and participate.
“We’re introduced into this new culture, but during the World Banquet, we get to show our culture and we feel safe to be ourselves,” AlHajjeh said. “Overall, it is a really good event, and I hope in the future it can be promoted more … Everyone can attend, and everyone is welcome regardless of your background, your race, anything.”
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