By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Mayor Stan Clouse calls it “one of the best events of the year.”
Judging by the attendance at Sunday evening’s Scott D. Morris International Food and Cultural Festival, a couple thousand people must agree. The large crowd gathered inside the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Health and Sports Center to celebrate diversity while enjoying food, music and dancing from around the world.
“Of all the things that I get invited to around the community, this is one of the highlights,” Clouse said before reading a proclamation recognizing International Education Week in Kearney.
“The international influence that the university and its students bring to our community cannot be overstated,” he added. “I think it’s just amazing.”
In its 45th year, the International Food and Cultural Festival is one of the best examples of this impact.
Students from across the globe came together to showcase their cultures and traditions during the annual event, which is hosted by UNK’s International Student Association. They prepared and served dishes from 11 countries, performed music, martial arts and dance routines and set up tables with games and other fun activities.
Everything was free for attendees.
“This is a good way for us as international students to give back to UNK and give back to the Kearney community for welcoming us and show how much we appreciate being here,” said sophomore Shawn Peterson, a member of the event’s organizing committee.
A health science major and pre-medical laboratory science student, Peterson is from Sint Maarten, a small island in the Caribbean. He came to UNK in January 2021.
“Most international students are nervous about coming here at first, because we don’t know what to expect, but everyone is so welcoming, especially faculty and staff,” he said. “There’s no difference between being a domestic student or an international student. We’re all just one Loper family.”
Peterson and the other committee members started planning this year’s festival in August. While they focused on the final details, Lopers like Sunayn Cheku were busy cooking for their guests.
Cheku and two other students from India prepared roughly 30 pounds of poha – flattened rice with spices, onion and peas.
“This is a dish that’s usually eaten for breakfast in India, and it’s pretty easy to make in a large amount,” he explained.
The freshman molecular biology major enjoys cooking, so he was happy to help with the event.
“It’s a fun way to show our culture to everyone in Kearney and represent our country,” Cheku said. “I hope people are more willing to try foods from other countries because of this.”
Beyond the meal, the UNK event emphasizes the value of cultural awareness and the importance of connecting with people from different backgrounds.
“It’s an opportunity to shine a light on our international students, our international faculty and our international partners from around the world, many of whom are here this week, and help grow appreciation for the impact of international students,” said Tim Burkink, assistant vice chancellor for international affairs.
International education is an important part of the overall mission at UNK, where roughly 250 international students from 52 countries are currently enrolled. UNK has more than 3,700 international alumni from 65 countries.
For domestic students, there are numerous opportunities to study abroad and engage with the global community.
“We have students who will graduate and go to work for companies that will have international positions or an international presence, so it’s absolutely critical for everyone to work toward developing that global mindset,” Burkink said.
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.