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Participants of the International Performance Open Stage present flags that represent the countries of international students in Grover Center on November 14, 2022.

Where the world dances together

Tucked away in the trees, Ohio University may appear isolated to those unfamiliar with its foundations of global outreach and representation. Aligning with these foundations are the university’s intentions to host its 11th annual International Education Week celebration beginning Nov. 14. 

However, this year, OU’s Communications and Development Studies Department, or CommDev, plans to celebrate its 35th anniversary with a series of cultural evenings, both Nov. 14 and Nov. 15, kicking off International Education Week. CommDev comprises a wide range of globally diverse students, many of whom helped plan for this celebration.

Saumya Pant, director of CommDev, provides a fresh perspective on OU’s dedication to global connection. Rather than organizing a mundane conference, Pant and her student co-workers have designed their cultural events to be lively celebrations in which all are welcomed. 

“Our (events are) open to all,” Pant said. “It's like family, what food we have we'll share, and we'll enjoy it together.”

The events are not strictly reserved for international students, alumni or faculty, but rather for anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of cultural meaning. 

Perhaps the most interactive event of the cultural evenings is the International Open Stage Performance in which all who feel drawn to share a story are provided the space to do so at Grover Center Atrium from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Countries such as India, Ghana and Kenya are just a few of the numerous cultures that will be brought to life by those without stage fright.

Another aspect of the CommDev anniversary celebrations is the passion of its members. 

“People who are coming on campus in the next few days are people who want to be here because they care,” Pant said. “Not because they’re trying to make a statement about their profiles or assert their egos.”

It is this pure intent that causes Pant to most look forward to welcoming the alumni of CommDev back to campus, allowing her to hear the stories of those who have taken their love for the program and spread its mission across the globe. 

Pant said the genuine excitement and willingness to learn of each attendee, without any ulterior motives or obligations, allow CommDev to celebrate its dedicated affiliates and showcase how a small act of support can lead the whole world to dance together.

Emceeing the International Open Stage Performance is Shelewa Babatayo, a second year graduate student studying communication and development, who believes she and other international students benefit from events such as the one she has helped organize. 

“It gives us international students a room to feel that we belong … (and that we) could also make an impact,” she said.

Babatayo’s position in the CommDev department has enabled her to create environments not often highlighted in University classrooms. It is these acts of leadership and change that justify the students of CommDev to refer to themselves as “the small UN."

An additional member of CommDev, Victor Dei, a graduate student and teaching assistant studying communication and development, serves as the president of the organization’s student association, which entails acting as a liaison between other student board members and directors.

Affirming that the students are the true masterminds behind CommDev’s anticipated events, Dei displayed his enthusiasm for the program.

An audience member of the International Performance Open Stage is invited to join a performer in an African dance in Grover Center on November 14, 2022.

“Everything is in the hands of the students,” Dei said. “We are the leaders when it comes to diversifying our cohort.”

Aside from honoring those who have continued to nurture the CommDev community and its intentions at OU, Dei believes that the organization's objective in hosting the cultural evenings is to immerse people of different backgrounds in an all-encompassing environment that they may not know exists at OU.

The overlap of International Education Week and CommDev’s 35th-anniversary celebrations allows students to see through lenses different than their own and forge long-lasting relationships.

“For me, I think this is the time that we get to celebrate our diversity as international students,” said Dei. “This is where we get to (grow) from the different people who come across the world.”

Pant encourages any and everyone to attend CommDev’s events. The most essential act of support that others can bestow upon the University’s Communications and Development Studies Department, according to Pant, is time.

“We need people to actively be involved with this program for students to learn about the development and the world out there,” Pant said.

Regardless of nationality, Pant encourages those who are able to attend the cultural celebrations spanning Nov. 14 and Nov. 15. Even if one chooses to not perform at the open stage or attend the international gala, anyone can at least come and eat delicious Caribbean and Indian food. 

“It is a very maternal moment where these are your students and they’re showcasing the work that you’ve helped them (create),” Pant said. “Now the whole world gets to see it.”

Check out sights and sounds from the Nov. 14 performance in the video below.


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