Thursday, February 2, 2012

Discovering the world on International Day

Kazakhstan was one of the many countries celebrated at International Day.
By Toby Reeve

Have you ever had the urge to grab your passport and tour distant lands? Immerse yourself in other cultures? Meet people from all over the globe? I got a chance to do just that last week when the Centre for Campus Life hosted International Day at Douglas College — Wednesday at New West and Thursday at David Lam.

I felt like I had stepped into a bustling marketplace when I entered the concourse in New West. I usually charge blindly through on my way to class, but this time I was drawn into a multitude of sights and sounds from different countries. I joined the crowd of students, clutching a passport made for the event.

My first stop was Japan. Not sure what to expect, I was delighted when a girl in a kimono asked me if I’d like to write my name in calligraphy. It wasn’t pretty, but she rewarded me with a sticker. When I collected eight stickers in my passport, I could enter to win a prize. I was on my way.

Looking around, I was struck by the breadth of cultures. I knew Douglas had a lot of international students, but I hadn’t realized they were from so many different countries.

Like Kazakhstan. Alina, a volunteer, asked me to find its capital city on a map before giving me a sticker. She is a Business Admin student who came to Canada a couple years ago. What did she like about International Day?

“I’ve met people from Kurdistan and Uzbekistan who also speak Russian,” she said. “I didn’t know they were here.” I was surprised that these students hadn’t connected before on such a small campus. Apparently I wasn’t the only one out of the loop.

At every table, volunteers enthusiastically shared their cultures with me. In Indonesia I played an angklung, in India I donned a chuni, and in Saudi Arabia I ate a date. My passport filled up.

Mashor, who manned the Saudi Arabia table, said he came to Canada as an ESL student. When he moved here he got to know and understand people from different cultures.

“It makes me happy, seeing all these people together,” he said, of the throngs of students. I imagined this was his dream of what a Canadian campus should look like.

Next, I stopped to talk to Bill, who works with Douglife. He reflected on a day full of speakers, performers and an international food fair.

“This represents what Douglas College is,” he said, scanning the diverse crowd. “People are proud of where they came from and they want to show it off.”

I thumbed my passport, suddenly wanting to keep it. I wondered if, once I returned to the insulation of my program, I would pay attention to students I passed in the halls, or say hi to them, or have a chance to hear their stories.

I wondered if I would feel, like I did today, that we were truly sharing the same campus.

Toby Reeve is a student in the Print Futures: Professional Writing program and a student staffer at Douglife.