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April 21, 2013

International Dinner promotes cultural exchange, offers culinary delights

VALDOSTA — The 37th Annual International Dinner was hosted by Valdosta State University Saturday night, offering attendees a chance to sample international dishes and experience international culture.

When it started 37 years ago, the International Dinner was a small affair, hosted by local churches with a handful of guests. Now in its fourth year being hosted on VSU campus, the dinner welcomed 300 guests, treating them to Jamaican meat pies, Korean braised chicken and German Spaetzle, along with bread pudding, Brazilian Brigadeiro, and a feast's worth of other dishes. Along with providing the entertainment, international students served the dishes from their home countries.

"This event is student-driven in every way,” said Lauren Braun, VSU International Student Services coordinator. “Students plan the menu, prepare the food - with the guidance of VSU Dining and Chartwells catering staff — plan the program, decorate, publicize the event and recruit talent for the program.”

And the program provided plenty of talent. Opening with a number by Tochi Madueke, Somuayiro Nwokike and Chioma Madueke, the night showcased the dances and music of several countries. Marie Reyes, Heesoo Jeong and Andrew Ritfeld performed a Latin American dance, while Ritfeld and Elena Tulianova danced the traditional Russian Kalinka dance.

On the music side of things, Terrell Andrews gave his rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” and Tochukwu Nwokike sang the African song “Ndihamba Nawe,” or, roughly translated into English, “I Choose You.”

The VSU Mass Choir was also in attendance, performing “I Shall Not Be Forgotten,” as well as the VSU Pan-American Ensemble, which performed a number of songs, including the George Gershwin number, “Summertime.” Oblivion, an international string-and-piano ensemble, also played.

There were two martial arts performances, with Ritfeld partnering with Ritzuki Mitzaki for a Capoeira demonstration and Russian student Irina Kandatseva performing Japanese martial arts.

The dinner featured a silent auction, with items from various students' countries available for biddng.

“The funds we collect are used to prepare for next year's event and to help provide resources for incoming students,” said Braun.

Students like Waleed Alharbi. The native of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, Alharbi arrived at VSU a couple of years ago.

“At the beginning, the most difficult thing was the culture, the cultural differences,” said Alharbi, who participated as one of the models for the International Fashion Show. “It was difficult, but I love South Georgia. People in the South, they enjoy helping you.”

As one of more than 300 international students attending VSU, Alharbi exemplifies what the program aims to do: foster international cultural exchange between the United States and other countries, while giving international students the chance to learn and obtain an American education.

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