By Kelly Pearce
The smell of meat and fried foods begin to waft from behind the black curtains on both sides of the Wilson Library Reading Room.
Ninety-six hungry participants take their seats at four long tables set up in front of a podium, eager to taste cuisine inspired from countries across the world.
The clock strikes 7 p.m. The banquet is about to begin.
Western’s Institute for Global Engagement and the International Students and Scholar Services programs established the Global Gourmet Banquet Western five years ago. They hit their highest number of attendees this year with a total of 96 guests.
Every year for Global Gourmet Banquet, Western students and faculty buy tickets to attend the dinner and try out dishes that are made by university dining staff and international students from Western.
Abigail Borchert, an International Student and Scholar Services advisor, said the students volunteer to work with the dining services staff on how to make a meal from their home country that they feel best represents their culture.
At the banquet, four students present a small slideshow about their country before their dish is served, and then attendees are able to enjoy the dish they just learned about.
“It’s a chance to showcase the international community and give them a voice and chance to celebrate their community,” Borchert said. “It’s also a chance for the university community and local community to learn more about who’s here on campus.”
Her favorite part of the banquet is being able to see the students take advantage of the banquet as a tool to help others understand their country through their eyes.
Borchert, who has been an adviser for five years, began working on the banquet after it was first thought of by the then-executive chef of dining services Patrick Durgan.
“He wanted to do something with international food because he really believed food was the way to communicate and build bridges across cultures,” Borchert said.
Steve Erbe is the current executive chef, and this is his second year making food for the event.
Erbe spoke before the dishes were served to guests, saying how thankful the dining services staff was to be involved in this event.
“It makes us think outside the box and approach new ways of thinking,” he said. “It’s a big task.”
At this year’s banquet, the dishes from students Asunción Aseko, Alua Sugralimova, Yajie Wang and Yoshua Villar Betances were inspired by recipes from Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, the Chinese province Xinjiang and the Dominican Republic.
These are just four of the 35 countries Western’s current international students come from.
Yajie Wang presented about her home, the Xinjiang province, and introduced her dish, Da Pan Ji.
“Global Gourmets Banquet provided me a precious opportunity to present my hometown’s unique culture as well as learning other cultures,” Wang said. “It would be great to have more cultural activities like Global Gourmets Banquet where everyone can enjoy while learning some new cultures.”
Even though the food was the main focus of the evening, Borchert said the purpose of the banquet was celebrating and learning about the students and the unique presence they have on campus.
“I work with international students every day and I know that they’re awesome people and that they have really interesting experiences and viewpoints to share,” Borchert said.
Wang has been studying in the United States for six years and said her role as an international student has included reminding students around her of being open-minded and increasing global awareness.
“I think I can bring up a different perspective in a classroom and it is always great to hear from people who have different cultural backgrounds,” she said.
Emily Tan, a sophomore at Western studying communication disorders, is one of the many international students that attended the banquet.
Tan is from Malaysia and said that while being at Western gives her the chance to explore new lifestyles and places, there are always challenges to being an international student.
“The time difference is always at the back of my head whenever I want to call my parents, or feeling lonely during festive seasons when I know all my family is gathered together,” Tan said. “But I have had the best support from advisers to all my friends who are always there to listen and make me feel a whole lot better.”
Borchert and Richard Bruce, the International Students and Scholars Services program director, are the main team that works to connect international students to Western resources.
“Personally, I think that Abigail and Richard from International Student and Scholar Services do alot to help international students feel welcome all throughout the year.” Tan said. “They are always in their office ready to answer any questions we have about classes, school or just life in Washington in general.”
For Borchert, her favorite part of the job is obvious.
“It’s the people,” she said.
As someone who has studied abroad, Borchert says she knows the value of traveling outside your country and wanting to feel welcome.
“I just think that’s so cool that people from around the world have come here to learn and to live, and if I can help it be a good experience and smooth out the transition then I love that.” she said.
“If I had an advice for a new international student, it would be try new things that you’ve always wanted to try, or maybe something you’ve just heard about and thought was cool,” she said. “There is so many things happening at Western all the time like dinners, excursions and different clubs.”
Though banquet is a big deal to the International Students and Services program, the emphasis for them will always be on the students.
“Despite being away from home, there is always a new place for you in Western,” Tan said.