What was once a small group of international students gathering at the home of Margaret Orlich, a Duluth community member, has now become an annual event with over 300 guests. For more than 45 years, guests have been sitting down for food, fashion and performances from cultures around the world first in Orlich's house and now in the University of Minnesota Duluth Kirby Ballroom.
“Feast of Nations is a celebration of culture and community in the Duluth area,” said Tory White, an intern at International Student Services. “There are a lot of misconceptions around culture and what it means, so to have the opportunity to build bridges, raise awareness and make new friends is really important.”
As a student-run organization, the UMD International Club appoints student officers to prepare for the event. They have been working to put together UMD’s Feast of Nations for several months.
“They’ve taken all of this on by themselves and have done a great job,” White said. “It starts with a lot of planning, coordinating and organizing; organizing of space, organizing of performances, organizing of food and tickets.”
Officers have to meet at least once a week, if not more, to work on banners, practice routines, pick recipes and get ready for the event.
“As an officer, I’m in charge of the performances. So I keep track of all the performers,” said Priya Vasireddi. “We have [had] practices three times a week for the last month and a half. We practice like crazy because synchronization is a key thing.”
As they practice their performances and ready their fashion show, UMD Catering prepares their food. The officers picked the recipes; some of them are reused from last year if they were popular and some of them are new. They had a taste test on February 28.
“If we didn’t have a food tasting before hand, and the food wasn’t accurately representing the country it’s from, it wouldn’t be an accurate representation of our club,” Vasireddi said.
The officers themselves are all from varying different backgrounds and countries.
“A lot of students have come forward to volunteer their time for the fashion show and performances for the feast,” White said.
Some of them are international students while others are from international families. They combine all of their knowledge to create the recipes, costumes, and their performances.
“I was born in India and I came here so I have that 'raised in two different cultures' type of thing going on,” Vasireddi said.
Her knowledge of Indian recipes and dance allowed her to contribute greatly not just to the feast, but to the choreography of the finale, which her and another Indian student created and taught to four other girls, who happen to be Hmong.
"We made it open for anyone to join. Ten people actually stepped up but they couldn’t keep up with the practices so it came down to the four Hmong girls and us, the two Indians,” Vasireddi said.
The group performances are not separated by nationality. Instead, they are mixed as one culture teaches another their background and traditions. There are 16 performances this year all performed within the hourlong show, representing 16 different backgrounds.
“Students don’t usually get to see such a diverse environment and be able to experience all of it. The Feast of Nations educates the public about food and the arts. It broadens people’s perspectives of what there is outside of the United States,” Vasireddi said.
The feast is just the tip of the iceberg for the group, which hopes to stimulate curiosity of other cultures in hopes of building a stronger international community.