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By TYLER ELLISON
KEARNEY – Food brings people together.
No matter where they are from or what their background is, everyone enjoys good food.
That was evident Sunday during the 46th annual Scott D. Morris International Food and Culture Festival. More than 1,000 people gathered at the University of Nebraska at Kearney Health and Sports Center to celebrate diversity while sampling a variety of cuisines from around the world.
Guests got to try Japanese fried chicken (karaage), Korean barbecue beef (bulgogi), Nepalese potato fritters (aloo chop), Kenyan deviled eggs (mayai pasua), Somali fried meat cakes (sambusa), Mexican enchiladas and Italian tiramisu.
The menu also included pav bhaji, a vegetable curry served with bread. Pav bhaji is a popular street food in India, where Sunain Cheku grew up.
“This is something that is very special to us. Everyone in India loves it, so we thought it would be a good dish to represent the country,” he said.
Cheku was among more than 100 students who helped plan and run the International Food and Culture Festival, which is organized by the UNK International Student Association in collaboration with UNK Global. Like last year, he spent a few days in the kitchen getting everything ready.
“I like sharing my food with other people and expanding their horizons a little bit,” said Cheku, a medical student studying molecular biology. “I think this event gives international students an opportunity to connect with people in Kearney and vice versa. International students sometimes tend to group together and not reach out, but this is a good way to bridge that gap between the two communities.”
I hope Chinhamo agrees.
He has been part of the International Food and Culture Festival for the past three years and currently serves as president of the International Student Association. Chinhamo and the other committee members began planning this year’s event in August.
It’s a lot of work, the construction management specialist said, but it’s worth it when he sees everyone having fun.
“This is an event where international students can just be themselves and showcase their food and culture,” said Chinhamo, a junior from Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe.
“It’s so easy to get stuck in your own little bubble or your own little world and not know about everything that’s going on in other countries or other cultures,” he added. “This event gives people that opportunity to experience other cultures, even if it’s just a taste.”
In addition to mouth-watering cuisine, the festival included a number of performances as well as other activities.
Mariana Ambriz performed a traditional dance “La Madrugada” from Guadalajara, Mexico, highlighting her family’s heritage.
“It’s important to me because it’s part of my culture,” said Ambriz, a sophomore from Lexington studying math education with an English as a second language permit. “I just like to dance to show my culture to other people and hope that other people will appreciate this culture.”
Ambriz called the support from campus and community members “truly amazing.”
UNK Chancellor Doug Christensen also noted the large turnout while recognizing all the students participating in Sunday’s event.
“These are really great students,” he said. “They don’t get any credit for it. They don’t get good grades for it. They put their time, effort and energy into being a part of the Kearney community, and that’s what’s so great about today. That’s what the Kearney community is all about, the ability to engage the world.”
International students are “a really special part of UNK,” Christensen added.
UNK has more than 3,700 international alumni from 65 countries, with approximately 300 international students currently attending the university.
“Kearney is a great place for international students and this is our way of saying thank you to the community. That’s why students are giving up sleep and study hours to plan this,” said Rio Suzuki, marketing, communications and recruiting specialist at UNK Global.
Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Suzuki was part of the International Food and Culture Festival as a student, and he has remained involved as a volunteer assistant over the years. This year he was the chairman of the event.
“At this point, it’s full circle,” said Suzuki, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in management in 2016 and a master’s degree in business administration in 2019.
With the support of Morris Printing Group of Kearney and UNK LoperNites, the International Food and Culture Festival remains free to attendees.
“I hope everyone understands how fortunate we are to have these international students on campus,” Suzuki said. “After this event, when they see students around the community, I hope they say hi and ask some questions because our students want those interactions.”
PHOTOS BY ERICA PRITCHARD, UNK COMMUNICATIONS