Cuisine, culture and companionship between students of all colors and creeds are what define the International Student Organization’s annual International Peace Dinner.
This year, a location change saw the evening’s offerings set up in the Student Activities Center, but that didn’t stop ISO’s member groups from giving it their all in a time when some feel cultural divides are more present than ever.
Fifteen foods represented Auburn students all across the globe, ranging from African ham couscous to Vietnamese vegetable fried rice. But to ISO President Olivia Atkins, a junior in German and political science, the event is a special celebration of the important connections between nationalities.
“It allows for every country to work together and allows them to show domestic students a little piece of home for them,” Atkins said. “We’re all in the same kitchen cooking together. It’s really something cool for me to watch because they’re proud of it.”
The event welcomed students across all international programs and domestic American students for a few hours of meals and conversation.
“I think [the Peace Dinner] lets everyone stay together, meet more friends and also meet different cultures,” said Jerry Shi, senior in aerospace engineering and member of ISO’s Social Hour committee. “[It’s] a dinner where we can share different countries’ food and say, ‘This food’s very good; where are you from?’”
Preparations for the dinner began on Nov. 3 to provide an adequate length of cooking time for the assortment of dishes. ISO partnered with Tiger Dining to streamline the process, making use of Terrell Dining Hall’s kitchens and having the food delivered to the Student Activities Center, Atkins said.
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“We would go until 1 a.m., and I would be there to supervise everything and help out where I could,” she said. “We just used one kitchen this year; last year we used three.”
The evening wasn’t solely limited to students; it also saw international Auburn faculty and their families in attendance.
“Lots of teachers and their families came here,” Shi said. “Everyone is welcome to our events; we just use their email to check in.”
ISO began promoting the event within its Social Hour nights about five weeks ahead of time, further advertising to the greater student body afterward via marketing materials and social media with assistance from its advisor.
One of the main obstacles in organizing this year’s dinner was the move to another venue, which was decided on because of recent renovations to the Student Activities Center. The new location was featured on posters throughout campus, and Atkins said committee members were posted at the Student Center Ballroom to relocate confused visitors.
“We were thinking, ‘Why don’t we try something new,’” she said. “There is more space in the [Student Activities Center], so I think it was a really good move.”
Another difficulty was ISO’s more extended outreach of the event as an attempt to bring in a more diverse number of guests.
“Trying to get to every single group on Auburn’s campus is definitely hard and that’s a huge challenge,” Atkins said. “We even tried to let sororities and fraternities know who otherwise wouldn’t have known, but I think we did a pretty good job of [advertising].”
ISO’s programs tend to attract mostly international students by nature. However, the organization’s leadership said this can be a shifting tide based on domestic student interest.
“I would say there are more international people here,” Shi said. “With Social Hours, sometimes there are more local students, but it depends.”
Shi regarded the yearly Peace Dinner as ISO’s culminating event for the fall semester, intended to highlight not one but all groups of international students and represent the organization’s aim of unifying Americans with international students and faculty.
“ISO sets events for different organizations from different countries to let more students and teachers in Auburn learn cultures, so it’s like a happy hour group,” he said. “The Peace Dinner brings all the organizations together.”
Atkins said some might find her status as ISO President unusual, because she is a domestic student.
“I’ve been with ISO since my freshman year,” she said. “I get it all the time that people are like, ‘Are you international? How are you the president of ISO?’ but you don’t have to be. ISO’s mission is to bridge the gap between domestic and international students and that’s how you do it.”
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