Claudia Espinoza, a graduate student studying music voice performance, and Kurt Soncco Sinchi, a graduate student studying civil engineering, walked onto the small stage that sat in the middle of the three ballrooms inside the Illini Union.
After a few moments and a few introductions, music started to play, and Espinoza started to sing a song that has become the unofficial anthem of Lima, the capital of Peru.
Espinoza sang “La Flor de la Canela,” which translates to “The Cinnamon Flower,” and she sang beautifully, filling the ballrooms with her magnificent, show-stopping voice.
Espinoza and Soncco Sinchi were representing Peru by performing several songs and a dance during this year’s Travel Around the World on Oct. 17.
They were just two of many people who attended the kick-off event for International Education Week at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.
Twenty-six countries were represented at this year’s event, and it was the first in-person Travel Around the World since 2019.
There was laughter; dancing and singing; guitar playing; some people were playing Jegichagi, which is a Korean version of hacky sack; and others were sharing everything they could about their culture making the event an excellent way to start IEW.
Returning In Person
IEW was organized by International Student and Scholar Services, but they partnered with several student groups, centers, colleges, and units on and off campus to provide different immersive learning experiences for the campus community.
This was done not only to raise awareness about the wide range of international education activities and resources in the community, but also to teach others about the importance of international education and its benefits.
There were several things that made this year different. For example, there was a new event called the International Cook Off that ISSS organized in partnership with University Housing.
However, what stood out the most was that this was the first in-person IEW following the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, Kimberly Yau, the associate director for ISSS, said there were many benefits that students were able to experience first-hand and the most obvious one was excitement.
"They were so excited to be back in person and they were excited to be sharing their culture and interacting face-to-face with other students," Yau said.
Of course, Yau wasn’t saying that having IEW online in the past was non-beneficial. She just said that when things are done online it takes away certain aspects of learning you receive from hands-on experiences like trying different foods.
In the end, this year represented a bigger celebration that reached more people compared to the last two years, which Yau said was one of her goals in the planning process.
“I always look to reach the kids that otherwise would not be interested because I want them to learn about how amazing different cultures are and how much diversity is on campus,” Yau said. “I want them to be comfortable with that and familiar with it, so they know how to better interact with people from different cultures.”
Yau said despite having a successful IEW, she’s looking ahead to what she can do differently to improve for next year.
For instance, she said she wants to implement a digital way to track how many events students attend.
“I think part of the issue with IEW is students might hear about one event but don’t realize how many other events are going on,” Yau said. “So, if we catch them at the first event at the start of the week and give them something to help not only track where they are but also promote other events, I think that will make it more successful in the future.”
Yau also said she wants to move IEW to November, the same month the week is recognized nationally, in the hopes that even more people can participate at every event.
IEW was held during midterms this year, and Yau said since students were busy, some events weren’t as widely attended as others.
For example, although Travel Around the World and the International Cook Off saw large audience participation, Yau said other events like the Intercultural Spotlight Series did not.
In addition to moving the week to November, she said she wants to better advertise events by contacting department or unit heads directly or reaching out to professors to see if they can talk to their students and encourage them to attend.
People on campus can help promote IEW as well by spreading the word as much as they can.
“The more support the better,” Yau said.
“This Is Why We Do It”
Yau recalled a memory from the Oct. 21 International Cook Off competition.
On that Friday, two groups were competing to see which kebab recipe was the best. One dish was a Peruvian-inspired kebab recipe, and the other was a Mexican-inspired recipe.
While the chefs competed in the demonstration kitchen (Table 1867) inside the Illinois Street Residence Dining Center, students were able to watch and wait for free samples.
“We had a journalism student there the entire time, so she heard the stories of both dishes, what they were (and) where they came from,” Yau said. “Well, we had another international student wander in at the very end and he walked up to the Peruvian side of the bar, and he was looking at the dish…and said, ‘Why did they make this?’ The journalism student who had heard all these stories and heard him say that told him the story of where the dish came from and I thought, ‘My goodness she’s listening and she’s teaching somebody else. That is amazing and that’s why we’re doing what we do.’”
The purpose of IEW, at its core, is to teach whether through a song, a dance, a conversation, or a homemade meal.
Yau planned IEW three to four months in advance, and since there is a lot of planning that goes into one week, she said seeing it come together and seeing students involved, learning, and trying new things is always special.
And that is exactly why she does what she does every year.
If anyone wants to get involved with IEW for 2023 or if they have any questions about events, they can email Yau at firstname.lastname@example.org.