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Annual Celebration Expands Cultural Awareness at Mississippi College

MC's international students from more than 20 countries will display the unique cultural aspects of their respective homelands during a
MC's international students from more than 20 countries will display the unique cultural aspects of their respective homelands during a "Celebration of Culture" Nov. 11 in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center.

Kokei Ewa enjoys telling others about the traditions and culture of her home country.

The master’s in medical sciences student from CrossRiver, Nigeria, came to Mississippi College from Texas, which has a robust Nigerian community.

“I love to talk about Nigeria and her diversity. People speak over 500 languages there,” she said. “Most of my friends all around me (in Texas) were Nigerian. Coming to Mississippi was very different.”

The unique cultural aspects of Nigeria and many other countries will be on vivid display when Ewa joins several international students in sharing their rich heritage during a Celebration of Culture from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. The event will be livestreamed to the Office of Global Education’s Facebook page as well.

More than 20 vibrant tabletop exhibits will showcase the language, art, literature, music, clothing, and traditions of the students’ respective homelands, offering a glimpse of what makes each culture so special.

According to Mei-Chi Piletz, executive director and principal designated school official in MC’s Office of Global Education, the event will provide an opportunity for attendees to learn more about the people and cultures of a world that, in the information age, has grown ever smaller.

“We want to emphasize the importance of international education,” Piletz said. “We’ve asked our international students to share anything they want about their countries, from older traditions to more modern cultures.

“We want people to know that international students contribute to the U.S. and to MC, and to help our students get to know their classmates’ cultures. It’s important to get educated about different countries and their cultures and backgrounds. The more we understand each other, the more peaceful the world is going to be.”

Among the items Ewa plans to showcase are traditional outfits, tribal music, and jollof rice, a traditional West African delicacy and source of pride in the region.

In fact, Ewa said, it’s a basis for some dispute among neighboring countries.

“It’s very similar to jambalaya here,” she said. “It has a rich history, and there’s a fight among the West African countries as to who makes the best jollof rice.”

Ewa said she is looking forward to participating in the celebration and helping break down barriers that can prevent people from getting to know one another.

“It feels like sometimes, they act like they’re walking on eggshells talking with you, always afraid to offend people,” she said. “When people learn from one another, they don’t have to be shy or scared to say things. It’s about being educated and feeling confident.

“At MC, I’m learning every day about other countries that I had not been aware of, about different people and different tribes, and how similar we all are in a different way. It’s great to come together and learn from each other.”

Piletz describes the celebration as a “paradigm shift” for the community.

“Every year, a lot of people from Clinton visit and bring their whole family,” she said. “It’s a great educational opportunity for their kids to learn about other people. It can change their ideas about people from other countries.

“They can talk with the students and find out there are many similarities in the way that they live, the way they talk, their overall culture. Our international students are learning American culture, but at the same time, they’re sharing the beautiful cultures from their own countries with domestic students. That’s a beautiful thing.”

As president of the International Student Association at MC, Saima Arif knows how important the celebration is for MC’s students. The Dhaka, Bangladesh, native said learning about different cultures helps them understand what life is like for people living in different parts of the globe.

“It’s a beautiful thing to know more about the world and experience the differences that God created in us, to sit and observe these differences, and sometimes try to put ourselves in their shoes to truly comprehend the struggle of life,” Arif said. “Because struggle means growth in many ways, and growth only comes when someone steps out of their comfort zone.

“Many people don’t appreciate these differences, but I feel that all our differences are beautiful and make us unique in our own way.”

MC’s Celebration of Culture heralds International Week 2021, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. Slated for the week of Nov. 15-19, it is designed to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences.

As part of International Week, MC’s Office of Global Education will also sponsor an International Education Week Forum beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18, to stimulate discussion about international affairs. MC leaders will address participants of the forum, show the Christian University’s new international student recruitment video, and host breakout groups on a number of topics related to international education.

The video by Madison Dean, media technology coordinator in the Teaching and Learning Center, has recently been selected for inclusion in the second annual EducationUSA East Asia and Pacific Region (EAP) Virtual Week and Roadshow for International Education Week. It will be posted in the Graduate Programs category on EducationUSA’s social media platforms across the EAP region.

A Department of State network of more than 430 international student advising centers in more than 175 countries and territories, EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network that promotes U.S. higher education to students around the world.

Piletz said attracting international students to Mississippi College for opportunities in higher education not only is important, but it has become much more competitive. She referred to a recent story in APM Reports by Karen Fischer and Sasha Aslanian that suggested international students have more educational opportunities, both at home and abroad, than ever before.

“American higher education has long prided itself as a brilliant beacon attracting students from around the world, and no country has trained more foreign leaders than the U.S.,” Piletz said. “But some international students don’t think it’s worth coming to the U.S. They have to spend a lot of money to get an education, but then they cannot stay and work here.

“The forum will allow participants time to get to know each other and to share their stories about the U.S. and what they think about the general value of education in the U.S.A.,” she said.

Piletz said the real value in events like the Celebration of Culture is the opportunity for participants to cultivate life experiences.

“At the end of the day, we are all the same,” she said. “People are people. But we are in a global community. We cannot be in isolation.

“I’ve been educated every day by my students. A lot of the conversations we’ve had have been eye-opening. There’s so much to learn about each other.”

The opportunity not just to represent her home country, but to learn about others, is an enticement for Ewa.

“Africa is a very big continent and very diverse,” she said. “I really enjoy talking about it, and about my country. But it’s always fun to see what other countries are represented by MC students, too. That will be cool.”

MC employees and students interested in attending the IEW Forum may register in advance by emailing to obtain a Zoom login. Community members interested in participating may visit OGE’s Facebook page.