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Annual International Dinner returns in lively event

Tables decorated with floral centerpieces and dimly lit candles neatly littered the Baker Center’s ballroom Saturday evening for the International Student Union’s, or ISU’s, annual dinner, occurring for the first time post-COVID-19. 

This year’s theme was “celebrating our global humanity.” The mood was set with dinner music performed by Otis Cockron and company as students and their families meandered in, eventually finding seats, with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. event.

The night was packed with performers, speakers and musical guests taking the stage to share stories or perform their act, as onlookers watched while chatting amongst themselves. 

Performers from Kenya, Indonesia, India and more were featured with events such as traditional dances, songs, speeches about the importance of our cultural differences and even a fashion show. 

In between those spectacles a wonderful dinner was served buffet-style by the students of ISU. The menu features all types of food, ranging from Vietnamese fried bananas to Nigerian jollof rice.

“One of the values of the dinner is that the students actually cook the food … so it is way more authentic than you're gonna get somewhere else,” Diane Cahill, the director of international student and scholar services, said.

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Volunteers serve dinner to an attendee of the International Dinner hosted by ISU at Baker University Center, Athens, Ohio, on February 25, 2023

Cahill said the students collaborate with the culinary services to correctly cook the meal before it is neatly displayed like it was on Saturday, a feat that always proves to be difficult, but yields an impressive turnout.

“As an advisor for ISU, I support the students in whatever events they want to do, in any type of professional development,” Cahill said. "Just generally supporting organizations that we support, which are all of the international students’ organizations that belong to our general body.”

One by one, tables were released to take a spot in line and fill their plates up with the carefully prepared food as the speakers from the night mingled with the crowd, saying hello to friends and family. 

Collins Ketera, a speaker at Saturday’s dinner and a graduate student at Ohio University studying African studies with a focus on education, said he enjoys working with ISU. 

“It brings people of different continents together,” he said. “(It combines) different abilities and cultures.”

Ketera is from Kenya and spoke twice throughout the night about how Africa is not a country, but rather a continent with many unique cultural differences that should each be appreciated in their own light. 

With so many foods to choose from, it’s hard to pick favorites, but there were definitely some dishes that students were most excited about. 

Aanya Datta, an international student from India and a junior studying psychology, was most excited about the dumplings being served. 

“I haven't had good dumplings in a long time,” she said.

Scenes from the 2023 Annual International Dinner, hosted by the International Student Union, in Baker Ballroom on February 25, 2023, in Athens, Ohio. (Pearl Spurlock)

Despite many intricate performances, Datta said she had a favorite. 

“Definitely the dancing,” Datta said. “I am a dancer so I can relate to that.” 

Cahill said the night was a success, and students and families alike left with smiling faces and full stomachs, already talking about how they cannot wait to do it all again next year. 

“The whole event is a challenge just because it’s so big,” said Cahill. “We have so much fun planning and being silly that it’s OK, we make it work.” 


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