For the past 40 years Illinois State University’s International Fair has given students from around the world a chance to share their cultures with the campus and the Bloomington-Normal community. The event, often referred to as I-Fair, is held every spring semester and features cultural displays, music, entertainment and food from around the globe. This year’s I-Fair will take place on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Bone Student Center Brown Ballroom. Admission for the event is $5 for adults, $3 for students in 6th – 12th grade and free for college students and children up to 5th grade.
“I-Fair brings together international and American students, faculty, staff and local residents of all ages for a cultural celebration unlike any other in the community,” said Sarah Jome, associate director of the Office of International Studies and Programs and coordinator of International House. “This year is particularly special because it is the 40th annual event. It is very exciting to see the enthusiasm that students and members of the University and local communities have as they work together to make this possible. It is also exciting to see the active leadership roles that students take in putting this event together.”
I-Fair is presented by United International Association, a registered student organization (RSO) that helps to coordinate other country and region-specific student organizations. Funding for the event comes from the Dean of Students Office through RSO accounts and from MECCPAC, a Dean of Students Diversity Initiative. Additional support comes from the Office of International Studies and Programs.
Country and region-specific displays and booths featuring clothing, artwork and cultural artifacts are set up by a number of RSOs. Other student groups display information on topics such as microfinance initiatives in developing nations and various world health issues. This year, the Global Review student organization will be collecting donations to benefit a Haitian university that was devastated during the recent earthquake. Community groups such as Rotary International, Our Chinese Daughters Association, Sister Cities, the Baha’i faith, Crossroads Global Handicrafts and others will also have booths at the event.
“I-Fair truly is a cooperative cultural program,” said Jome. “The 2009 event brought together 20 student organizations with more than 180 volunteers and 13 community organizations with more than 90 volunteers. Approximately 1,000 people attended I-Fair last year. That has been the typical attendance figure in recent years.”
Traditional music, dance and storytelling are part of the live entertainment on stage throughout the day. Past I-Fairs have featured ethnic fashion shows, American clogging (dancing), a cappella singing and martial arts demonstrations. Visitors also have the chance to sample a wide variety of foods prepared by international students and by local restaurants. People familiar with the delicious food offerings at I-Fair have been known to plan their visits so they can enjoy both lunch and supper.
Resources from around the world are marshaled during the planning of I-Fair. “Students’ families and friends back home really help to make this event possible,” said Jome. “They send cultural items, clothing and family recipes so that I-Fair can capture the authentic look and taste of the various countries and regions that are represented.”
The growth of international cultural events, such as I-Fair, has coincided with the increase in the number of international students and scholars at Illinois State in recent decades. The international student population grew from fewer than 12 in 1955 to more than 200 by 1970. International House opened in 1970 as a living and learning community for international and American students. Approximately 100 international students and 100 American students lived in I-House, which was located in Watterson Towers at the time. In April of 1971, the first I-Fair was held in the third floor lounge of the student union building, now Old Union. Though a rather small event, it attracted a great deal of attention on campus that year, and the following spring it moved to a larger space in Fell Hall. As I-Fair expanded it moved to Walker Hall and eventually to its current location in the Bone Student Center Brown Ballroom.
“I-Fair has a long history of bringing students, faculty, staff and community members together to showcase and celebrate the different world cultures that are represented here at Illinois State,” said Momar Ndiaye, director of the Office of International Studies and Programs. “I-Fair gives visitors a chance to explore the world around them and interact with people from many countries without leaving town. That kind of international education experience is extremely valuable in our increasingly global world.”