MC’s Annual Celebration of Culture Helps Lifelong Learners Enhance Their International Awareness
Hamzeh Alzoughool was only 17 when he left the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to pursue an undergraduate degree in the United States.
Initially, he sought to enroll in a university located in a large city, but decided that navigating a bustling environment 9,000 miles from home might be too challenging. His cousins who live in Mississippi recommended he consider Mississippi College.
It proved to be a wise suggestion.
“MC encapsulates perfect student conditions,” said Alzoughool, a junior biology pre-med major. “It offers an excellent biology degree and department, a safe and quiet environment and campus, and religious and familial values.”
The only drawback? The student body includes very few Jordanian or Middle Eastern students.
The Office of Global Education and the International Student Association at MC are turning that disadvantage into an opportunity for Alzoughool and dozens of international students on the Clinton campus.
The organizations are teaming up to host the annual Celebration of Culture, a rich educational experience for anyone interested in learning about different ways of life from throughout the world, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13, in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. The event is free of charge and open to the public.
Mei-Chi Piletz, executive director of global education, likens the celebration to traveling the world in your own backyard. Attendees mingle with MC students and faculty from other countries at their display tables and enjoy looking at fashionable clothing, hearing traditional music, sampling authentic cuisine, and learning about their customs.
“Many times, we tend to be a little provincial and only learn about American culture,” Piletz said. “God brought all these students to our front door, so our MC family and the community can take advantage of this great opportunity to get to know these students and their cultures.
“I’ve had so many people tell me after the event that they learned a lot about other countries just by coming to the Celebration of Culture and talking with our students.”
International students from about 50 different countries are enrolled at Mississippi College. Piletz herself became more enlightened when an international student from Indonesia hosted a table at the event two years ago.
“I knew Indonesia had several islands, but I didn’t know they numbered in the thousands,” Piletz said. “This year, I talked with our first Filipino student participant and discovered the Philippines has more than 7,000 islands. I was shocked. I was born and raised in Taiwan: the Philippines is just south of us, and I didn’t know that fact.
“That’s the reason for the Celebration of Culture – we’re all lifelong learners, and everyone can learn something new from each other.”
For MC’s international students like Alzoughool, the celebration offers an opportunity to help others discover what makes their homelands special.
“It is my duty to showcase my culture and be an ambassador of Jordan in places that lack a profound understanding of the country,” said Alzoughool, who participated in the event last year and plans to continue as long as he is a student at MC. “Not only do I get a chance to showcase my culture, but I also learn more about many cultures from different continents of the world.
“The event serves as a United Nations meeting, but without politics and more fun!”
Piletz said the celebration helps cultivate the two main ingredients of peace: empathy and understanding.
“It’s such a personal experience,” she said. “You get to talk to people who are glad to share their perspective on growing up in another country. It’s so important for people to have conversations and understand each other, where they come from, and why they do things the way they do.
“The more we understand one another and the more empathy we have toward another culture, the less conflict we will have.”
Alzoughool said the Celebration of Culture has the capacity to correct misinformation, too.
“Many people nowadays depend on social media as their primary source of learning and news,” he said. “The sad truth is that much of the information they receive can be tainted with a bad image or simply be wrong.
“The Celebration acts as ‘culture across borders’ where individuals in the Clinton area don’t have to travel to reach the proper understanding of various cultures.”
Through the years, attendance at the celebration has increased steadily. For the first time, it has been classified as a “points event” for MC’s service clubs and tribes, so a record crowd is expected.
Those who want to sample food should come early – especially if they intend to visit Alzoughool’s table.
“That region, along with neighboring Middle Eastern countries, is the cradle of religion and civilization,” he said. “I plan to showcase different types of food from diverse regions in Jordan, as well as the historical significance of the country.
“Make sure to prepare your stomach before visiting the Jordanian table. We have heavy foods and extremely strong coffee that will keep you up!”