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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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International Festival Offers Community a Taste of Cultures

The 2016 festival marked 40th consecutive year that event has been held in Mankato.

2016-04-11
Trey Mewes, Mankato Free Press, 4-11-2016

At Minnesota State University, Mankato, a person can find a taste of cultures from all over the world. This Sunday, area residents took that idea literally as foods from dozens of countries were on display.

There were egg rolls for sale from the Hmong Student Association, a bevy of Japanese dishes made by Japanese international students. A group of students even sold varieties of guacamole — regular, hummus guac and Greek guacamole, which has Greek yogurt and onions.

That’s part of the charm of the Mankato Area International Festival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.

“It’s surprising,” said Stephanie Vue, president of the Hmong Student Association. “There’s been all these different types of nationalities here for 40 years already. For Minnesota State Mankato, that is quite diverse, we’re getting the chance to make it even more diverse.”

The festival started in 1972, shortly after Mankato’s international student programs started. A group of faculty led by professor Kuhn Lee decided a community festival would be a good way to tie student programs together with a chance for a community cultural exchange.

Since then, the festival has been held almost every year — there were a few years where the community held off on the celebrations — in locations across the city from Mankato East High School to what is now the Intergovernmental Civic Center.

For Chuck and JoAnn Syverson, the festival is another way for residents to connect with others, much like how they’ve connected with numerous international students over the years.

The Syversons have hosted many foreign exchange students in their home, and they sponsor scholarships for international students attending Minnesota State Mankato.

“Our daughter likes to say you never know who’s going to show up at Thanksgiving,” JoAnn said.

She and Chuck have gone to many festivals over the years, in part because of all of the opportunities to learn about other cultures, and in part to see how so many people can come together peacefully as global tensions rise and fall.

They’re not the only people excited to learn from others, however. Stephen Stoynoff, dean of global education at Minnesota State Mankato, highlighted how international students reach out to the community through volunteer efforts and other projects. The festival is an extension of Minnesota State Mankato’s efforts to promote cultural exchange.

“We consider it one of the most important outreach activities that we engage in on campus with the local community,” Stoynoff said.

This year’s festival included performances from instrumental music virtuoso Greg Herriges, as well as performances by the Mexican Folklore Dancers of Southern Minnesota, the Asian dance theatre troupe YIYUSA and the Irish/Scottish music group Lester Cherryhomes.

For Minnesota State Mankato students and community members alike, the festival continues to provide a good time with new friends.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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