By Courtney Fowler, Staff Reporter
On April 22nd, UMF’s Office of International and Exchange Programs concluded their yearlong series of events titled “Discover the World,” in a final event highlighting cultures in Africa.
Open to both students and community members, this unique event featured many aspects of traditional African cultures including African music, a drum presentation, a station for Arabic writing, and many delicious food options. Seven African countries were represented that ranged from Kenya to Sudan.
Freshman Cheyenne VanDooren expressed her excitement for joining the occasion. “I am very much into other cultures,” VanDooren said. “I love learning new things and I think everyone should be exposed to something different from their own.”
In fact, exposure has been the main goal of all the events included throughout the series. Each event focused on a specific region of the world and the culture unique to that area. In October, Asia was featured, December focused on France, and a Chinese New Years celebration took place in February.
Lynne Eustis, Assistant Director of the Office of International and Exchange Programs, stressed the importance of not only showing casing different cultures, but exposing students to what these countries offer.
“It is important to open the [student’s] minds to the world around them so that they can appreciate and respect cultural differences as well as learn more about themselves as individuals,” said Eustis. “Of course we also hope this exposure may spark and/or strengthen their interest in studying or traveling to another country.”
Not only did the series of events allow for students and community members to gain knowledge, but it also gave UMF’s international students a chance to share their cultures with others. It was clear that all of the students who played a role in the event were passionate about telling stories of their home culture with those here in Maine.
Liya Mindaye, a sophomore from Ethiopia, had a glow in her eyes as she reminisced on her younger days in Africa and her transition to the United States.
“I was born in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and lived there until I was seven before moving to Boston,” said Mindaye. “I love sharing my culture with others because so many people here have misconceptions. I’ve had people ask me if we even have buildings in Africa!”
Mindaye also went on to describe a unique Ethiopian tradition called the coffee ceremony. “Coffee is extremely special to us in Ethiopia,” she said. “We take a long time to prepare it and only serve the coffee when we have guests over. On top of that, the ceremony itself is very is intricate and it’s always a nice gesture towards others.”
Like many of the other students who represented their home countries, Mindaye has not been able to revisit Africa since moving away as a child. After graduation, she hopes to return and reunite with her extended family.
From the passion of the students sharing their culture, to the many people who came to learn, the event was nothing short of a success. VanDooren, inspired by her newfound love of Africa, was especially grateful for the experience.
“The event opened my eyes to a culture I didn’t know much about,” said VanDooren. “Learning about new cultures helps to break down stereotypes and is a way for me connect with others. Without the knowledge of other cultures, I don’t think I could really enjoy life.”