UNK celebrates cultural diversity during annual International Food Festival

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Andrew Prochaska and his wife Amy were definitely the most prepared guests at Sunday’s Scott D. Morris International Food and Cultural Festival.

They brought their own cafeteria trays to the free event at the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Health and Sports Center, a veteran move for a couple with three daughters, ages 6, 9 and 12. It’s much easier to enjoy the meal – prepared by UNK students from 11 different countries – when you’re not worried about balancing disposable dishes.

The Prochaskas learned that trick a few years ago. They’ve been attending the popular campus celebration for much longer – since they were UNK students in the early 2000s.

“It’s a great opportunity to try different foods and experience different cultures, especially for the little ones,” said Prochaska, who graduated from UNK in 2006. “I think it’s an awesome event. We really enjoy it, and we always encourage other people to come.”

In its 44th year, the International Food and Cultural Festival brings the UNK and Kearney communities together to celebrate diversity and promote cultural awareness. It’s a way to meet people from around the world, without leaving central Nebraska.

“America is called a melting pot for a reason. There’s a lot of diversity, so it’s important to learn about these different cultures. This is a great opportunity for the community in that way,” said UNK senior Rina Pokharel, a member of the event’s organizing committee.

A business administration major with an entrepreneurship minor, Pokharel was born in Japan and she grew up in Nepal. Both countries were represented on this year’s menu, along with Guatemala, Germany, Thailand, Korea, Belgium, Italy, India, Oman and Colombia.

“Food is always a great way to introduce cultures,” Pokharel said, “and it’s also tasty.”

UNK students spent several hours preparing delicious dishes from their home countries before the large crowd began arriving around 4 p.m. Each recipe was also included in a free cookbook so attendees can recreate them in their own kitchens.

The Prochaska family was especially excited about the tiramisu – a classic Italian dessert – and the girls always enjoy the singing, dancing and other performances. There were tables with games and other fun activities, too.

Dozens of international and domestic students participate in the festival each year, including members of the International Student Association, Korean Student Association at Kearney and Japanese Association at Kearney.

“I think that really exemplifies the unity our student body has,” said Austin Truex, an organizational and relational communication major from Norfolk.

The UNK junior is another member of the event’s organizing committee.

“I’ve never left the Midwest, so this is a way for me to experience other cultures and develop authentic, long-term relationships with people from around the world,” he said. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to make those connections here.”

Previously hosted in the spring, the festival is now part of UNK’s International Education Week celebration, which continues through Thursday.

International education is an important part of the overall mission at UNK, where more than 250 international students from 56 countries are currently enrolled. The university also offers dozens of opportunities for domestic students to study abroad, with programs ranging from a few weeks to a full year.

The International Food and Cultural Festival is sponsored by Morris Printing Group of Kearney, UNK LoperNites, the Pepsi Fund and UNK’s Office of International Education.