On Sunday, April 28, 40 countries will come together in the Squires parking lot for Blacksburg’s 60th annual International Street Fair.
Alright, so there won’t literally be 40 countries squeezed into one parking lot — there will be 40 Virginia Tech student organizations, each representing a different nation — but according to festival organizer Fawna Zwart, anyone attending will feel as though they’ve traveled outside the United States for an afternoon. “It’s the opportunity to visit 40 countries in one day,” she said.
The festival began in 1959. “It was founded to showcase the cultures and the diversity here on campus,” Zwart, assistant director of campus and community engagement at the Cranwell International Center said. “The students work really hard.”
That hard work pays off. This year’s festival, which is organized in partnership with the Council of International Student Organizations, will be jam-packed with student-run booths, live performances throughout the afternoon, participatory art projects and virtual-reality “travel” from the Mozaiko and Studio 72 living-learning communities and a “Global Kids’ Zone” hosted by Wonder Universe (formerly called the Blacksburg Children’s Museum). Thanks to a generous donation from the Cranwell family, the fair will also be able to offer bonuses like a Snapchat filter and photo booth.
The festival will kick off at noon with a Procession of Nations, which Zwart is bringing back for the first time in many years. Led by the HokieBird, students from various groups will walk with their countries’ flags down Main Street and College Avenue. Then, they will head to their tents, where they will man their booths for the rest of the afternoon.
Returning festival-goers may notice a big change from previous festivals, where many student groups sold food. This year, the student groups will offer interactive, educational activities instead. “They’re actually having conversations, demonstrating their diverse cultures,” Zwart said. “They will have displays of clothing and artifacts … some of them are doing trivia games; some of them are doing interactive art.” Some, like SalsaTech, will even offer dance lessons. The student groups are still allowed to sell prepackaged snacks, and some will sell crafts or artwork like henna tattoos. All money raised will go to their organizations.
Hungry festival-goers looking for something a bit more substantial, however, needn’t look far. Seven food trucks will line the parking lot, each one selling cuisine from a different region of the world. The newest addition to the food truck lineup is The Pakalachian, started by Mohsin and Katlin Kazmi, who met when they were graduate students at Tech. “They’ve developed this wonderful menu, and they serve a combination of Pakistani and Southwestern Virginia food,” Zwart said.
Another exciting addition to this year’s festival are the two Virginia Tech food trucks, Periodic Table and The Grillfield. Periodic Table will serve Saudi Arabian dishes, while The Grillfield will offer German food. Both food trucks will have student recipes on hand, too, for attendees to take home and try. Homestead Creamery will be there, as well, serving up a brand-new mango ice cream flavor. The International Street Fair will offer a contest on Facebook and Instagram to choose a name for the ice cream, and the winner will get free ice cream the day of the fair.
Throughout the afternoon, attendees can enjoy 25 live performances from various student and community groups, including the Itraab Arabic Music Ensemble, Cedars of Lebanon and Japanese Cultural Association. “They’ll be performing their hearts out,” Zwart said. “All that talent is here at Tech; that’s what’s so exciting about it.”
The festival is open to everyone, free of charge, and has even earned a spot on the Hokie Bucket List. Last year’s drew 6,000 attendees, and Zwart hopes to see even more this year. “There’s something for everyone,” she said. “What’s really important is that we provide a venue for students to have expression and to be able to meet people from the community.”
Zwart shared stories of students meeting people from their countries that they didn’t previously know lived in Blacksburg, and the Malaysian student group even ended up hosting 60 Malaysian community members at their graduation celebration as a result of the International Street Fair. “We are fortunate in Blacksburg that we live in a bubble, and we have this opportunity to learn about global things, global understanding and how best to relate to others,” she said. “If you love to travel, if you love to experience new cultures and opportunities, this is the place to come. You get to meet your fellow students here. They have so much to offer. They’re so excited and they’re so willing to participate.”
Best of all? You don’t even need a passport.