A version of this story appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of Fourth Estate.
Elena Galindo, staff writer
Students came to enjoy typical snacks and games from New Zealand, Moldova, Mexico, France, Spain, Japan and the state of Virginia as a part of International Week.
International Café, more colloquially known as iCafé, was established in 2011 as an extension of International Week. Each semester, two iCafé events are held where students come together to taste traditional snacks and drinks from a variety of countries and states.
Aside from trying exotic snacks, students can also participate in traditional games, win prizes by answering trivia questions, learn how to make crafts or simply mingle with other students from diverse backgrounds.
iCafé, held at the Student Union Building I, is sponsored by the Office of International Programs and Services and the Peer Empowerment Program, but is a student-led initiative with an emphasis on community building and on spreading cultural awareness within the Mason community.
Senior and PEP member Haran Cha has been volunteering for iCafe for the past two years.
“I come from a Korean background, and did not know about all the different countries and cultures that GMU students are a part of,” Cha said. “There may be people from many different countries and cultures, but not all really go outside of their bubble to learn about other cultures. [Because] George Mason is such a diverse campus, I wanted to be a part of a group that promotes diversity on campus. International Café is a great gateway to getting people interested in learning about other people’s cultures.”
For Catherine Healy, a Mason Alumni and iCafe volunteer, iCafé is an opportunity to interact with other students at Mason.
“This is a big world, and International Café gives me a change to embrace what it has to offer,” Healy said. “I am of Russian heritage and I enjoyed meeting other students who speak the Russian language through International Café.”
“International Café introduces me to countries I have never heard of and gives me a chance to talk to other students from different countries about what their culture is like,” Cha said.
Anyone may choose to volunteer at the event and to attend the weekly iCafé Planning Team meetings.
Countries and states represented at each International Café event are randomly selected by the student volunteers, and they vary at each iCafé. This is to ensure that as many cultures as possible are represented and to allow a diverse group of Mason students to become involved in the process.
International Café has an educational focus. Student volunteers set up tables with posters, pictures, books and pamphlets with information about different cultural events, customs and traditions.
iCafé visitors are encouraged to engage in discussions with the volunteers.
International student Rina Murano sees volunteering at iCafé as both an opportunity to educate and to be educated.
“I felt that this was a great opportunity to introduce Japan to [those] who don’t know about it,” Murano said. “Through this event, I was able to meet many people who were interested in Japan or other cultures. I was also able to learn about other cultures by participating in the event as well.”
Educating peers is equally as important to Healy.
“Eastern Europe is often misunderstood, but volunteering here is one way to spread knowledge about my people, their culture and their history,” Healy said. “I hope that people will become more informed about what is really happening in the world.”
Cha further hopes that iCafé can help foster acceptance within the Mason community.
“I think having this opportunity is great because learning about different cultures brings people together and promotes acceptance,” Cha said.
The next International Café event will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 5, from 12-2 p.m. in SUB I.
Photos credit: Claire Cecil