By Rolanda Hatcher-Gallop
Al Dia Today
MELBOURNE – Laura Metz has visited the Holy Lands of Israel, strolled through quaint castles in Germany and viewed the scenic landscapes of Switzerland and Scotland firsthand.
But one place she hasn’t been is Saudi Arabia.
A visit to Florida Tech’s first International Festival on Feb. 25 changed that.
“You could tell that the Saudi Arabian students were very excited to share their culture. I learned so much from their exhibit that I actually felt like I’d been to the country,” said Metz, an administrative secretary in the university’s Humanities and Communications department.
And that’s what organizers were hoping to hear from the more than 500 people who attended the festival.
"We organized the festival as a way to celebrate the cultural diversity we have in the community,” said Judith Brooke, director of International Student and Scholar Services.
Al Dia Today
Participants from different countries pose at the 1st annual Florida Tech International Festival. Organizes are looking for sponsors for next years event. For more information, contact Judith Brooke, Director of International Student and Scholar Services, at (321) 674-8053
“We also wanted to educate people about the different cultures represented here at the university,” Brooke said, adding that Florida Tech has students and faculty from over 100 countries.
Florida Tech, founded in 1958, is the only independent, technological university in the Southeast. The school has built a strong reputation for attracting students from around the world to its award-winning undergraduate and graduate programs.
More than 20 percent of those on the Melbourne campus are international students.
Brooke added that the festival attendance numbers surpassed expectations.
“It was wonderful that so many people from the community came out. I got a lot of positive feedback about the event,” she said.
That included Metz, whose favorite part of the festival was sitting on the lawn with her husband, Jason, and watching dancers and singers celebrate their cultural heritages on the school’s new outdoor amphitheater, the Panthereum.
Guests enjoyed folk dancing by Saudi Arabian, Indian and Caribbean students as well as a rousing performance by Al Dia Today’s own Javier Molinares and the Valle Cumbia de Colombia dancers.
Additional entertainment included the Ron Texeira Trio, featuring jazz vocalist Linda Cole; the Infinity Dance Team; the Israeli Dance Group; an Andean traditional guitar and wind ensemble and even a bagpiper.
“I enjoyed all of the performances but I really liked the Indian dancers, from their colorful dress to the actual dances, which seemed pretty detailed and difficult,” she added.
Festival patrons got quick history and cultural lessons during the six-hour event as they visited booths displaying items from almost every corner of the globe including: lizard purses and exquisite gems from Tanzania; henna hand paintings from India; and clothing, handmade jewelry and traditional artifacts from Zimbabwe, China and several countries in between.
Local vendors gave a taste of the exotic with food from Colombia, India, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Joanie Velazquez, who owns Rancho Viejo Restaurant with her husband, Daniel, sold Mexican food at the affair. Although she was working, the excitement in the air did not escape her.
"I liked a lot of the variety of music and food atthefestival," she said.
“It was fantastic!” said Rodney Bowers, who works in the school’s Academic Support Center.
"It was great to see everyone come together and celebrate,” he said.
Kristy Kizer, an office manager at the school, brought three of her children to the event.
“Seeing other cultures helps further their appreciation for the diversity in our community and our world,” said Kizer, who moved from Tennessee to Florida a few years ago.
“Growing up in Tennessee, my children didn’t have many opportunities to be exposed to much diversity. But being immersed in all of the diversity here makes them more well-rounded individuals,” she said.
She said her children, especially her 12-year-old daughter, seemed most impressed with the various cultural dances performed at the event. They even got to see a group of men kneel and pray to Allah.
“I really enjoyed the jazz trio. The musicians were incredible. It was an enjoyable learning experience for everybody,” Kiser said.
Brooke said the event took six months to plan.
Now organizers are already formulating ideas for next year’s event.
“Ultimately, the objective is to turn this into a fundraising event and raise money for international student scholarships.
“We are looking to get community sponsorships for next year’s festival. If we can secure enough funding, we’ll consider expanding the event even more,” she said.
“If people or businesses are interested in providing sponsorships, I’d love for them to call me at (321) 674-8053,” Brook added.