A Fair to Remember

International students celebrate cultural diversity at Kenyon with an outdoor festival.

By Carolyn Ten Eyck '18

Photo by Ayman Wadud '25

The Saturday after Summer Sendoff, students gathered on Peirce lawn and began setting up tables in the rain. Umbrellas shielded poster boards and arrays of food brought in from Columbus. The Cultural Fair was beginning. 

The origins of the fair, hosted by the International Society at Kenyon (ISAK), came about after the success of February’s Multicultural Night, an event where international students celebrated the cultural diversity of their home countries with a fashion show and catered food. Events like these are planned with the intention of giving international students the opportunity to share their cultural backgrounds with one another and the campus at large. 

“It took about two months to plan the whole thing,” said Somphors Tann ’23, ISAK president and an economics and international studies major from Siem Reap, Cambodia. After writing proposals and receiving funding for the event from the Business and Finance Committee, the Center for Global Engagement and Kenyon’s anti-racism resources, as well as other departments like religious studies and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the event began to come together. 

During the planning process, ISAK allocated financial resources to students representing each country — more than 30 of which were represented at the fair. The students could then decide how to spend the funds, whether on catered food, snacks from their home countries or other decorative props for their table. 

“It’s not just us, the students, but everyone that we share this community with.”

Somphors Tann '23

“The stations looked so different per country,” Tann said, noting that many students wore traditional attire and displayed sentimental items from their home countries at their tables. “These things evoke a sense of curiosity.” 

Tann, busy during much of the event coordinating vendors, also curated a booth representing her home country of Cambodia, with flags, snacks, miniature temples and a cookbook. “I was so caught up with organizing everything,” she said, laughing, and wasn’t able to spend much time standing at her booth.

After the many months spent social distancing and being unable to hold larger in-person gatherings, events like this hold a special resonance. “During the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to be active in a way that engages the community and does what we are supposed to do as an organization,” said Tann, who added, “It was also an excuse to get everyone’s spirit back up.” 

Despite the rain and the already-eventful weekend, people turned out to celebrate. Tann, who initially was worried about food going to waste, ended up cutting spring rolls and dumplings in half so that everyone could get a taste. 

A student from Paraguay mentioned the upcoming fair while tutoring in Mount Vernon. Their students showed up for the event, a mix of parents and younger children. “It’s not just us, the students, but everyone that we share this community with,” noted Tann. “People from Gambier and Mount Vernon came, and faculty members. It was a really nice environment.”

Tann, who plans on making the fair an annual occurrence, noted the importance of providing a space to promote cultural curiosity. “There’s this certain hesitation in wanting to ask more” about someone’s cultural heritage, she said. “I think hosting something like this gives people that excuse to be able to ask. It’s giving an excuse for people to learn more about each other, not just on a surface level.”