The smell of food from around the world wafted Saturday through the University of Maine field house, where international students from more than 20 countries gathered to share their culture and traditions during UM’s Culturefest.
The annual event gives foreign students the chance to show off their traditional food, dress, and entertainment.
“It’s an opportunity to highlight the traditions and cultures of students of other cultures,” Karen Boucias, director of UM’s Office of International Programs, said Saturday.
On average, about 1,000 people attend the annual event that includes food from around the world made by students and staff, and a talent and style show.
Culturefest, a free event open to the public, is organized by the UM Office of International Programs and National Student Exchange and the International Student Association.
This fall, UM has about 400 international students enrolled who represent 72 countries.
“It’s a good idea, I think,” Catryn Parry of North Wales said of Saturday’s event. Parry is a junior studying history as part of an exchange program at UM.
“I think it makes us more patriotic,” she said, noting that it’s nice to have an opportunity to share information about home with others.
Several people stopped and chatted with Parry and junior Lucy Digney of Brighton, England, who set up the Wales and England booth together.
“They just want to hear us speak,” Parry said with a smile.
She and Digney went on to explain the differences they’ve found since coming to Maine.
“You call fries ‘fries,'” she said. “We call fries ‘chips.'”
The difference between football and soccer, and the fact that they drive on the “wrong” side of the road also has been hard for them to get used to.
“It’s weird sitting in the back and seeing the driver sit on that side,” Parry said.
There are some things about home that the students miss.
“We miss English chocolate,” Parry said.
“Hershey’s just doesn’t cut it,” Digney added, saying she also misses English tea.
In preparation for the event, many students stayed up cooking until the wee morning hours for two days to get the approximately 20 food tables ready.
“They put a lot of work into it,” Sarah Joughin, UM international student and scholar advisor, said.
Baklava made from turkey, Zong Zi (rice and red beans wrapped in a bamboo leaf) from China and Kokis (a deep-fried batter of rice flour and coconut milk) from Sri Lanka were among the exotic offerings.
Students also were scheduled to perform traditional belly dance from Turkey and the Middle East, an African dance, and break-dancing from Vietnam.
“The world is getting smaller all the time,” Boucias said. “Today is an opportunity to meet face to face. We don’t have that many opportunities in Maine, and especially right here, without going to a big city.”