Passport to the World brings glimpses of life from abroad

Beryl Zhu | Mercury Staff

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UTD’s 2024 iWeek opened on Feb.19 with the Passport to the World festival, where students shared different foods, fashion and the history of UTD’s many cultural groups.

Student organizations represented countries including Ghana, Bangladesh, Palestine, Israel, Mexico, India, Kenya, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and more. The festival was organized by UTD’s Intercultural Programs department, or ICP, which organizes events and activities to bridge the cultures of the school’s over 5,000 international students.

Biomedical engineering senior Maxwell Quaye, who was running the booth for Ghana, said while he was born in America, he had been raised in his culture and was proud to represent it. The booth covered Ghana’s history as a central hub for the slave trade, showed off traditional woven cloth called kente and offered spiced fried plantains called kelewele.

“… in Ghana, there’s eight main tribes, and even though they’re all culturally different … [they are] all still integrated together in some way,” Quaye said.

CITS junior Sahil Akbar, who was running the Bangladesh booth, said it meant a lot to him to represent his community. The Bengali booth served chicken biryani, a fragrant rice dish; khichuri, a yellow rice with vegetables; chola, seasoned chickpeas; firni, a sweet rice pudding; and gulab jamun, a fried sweet dough dipped in sugar syrup.

“What we’re really known for is our language, because February 21st is known as International Mother Language Day, and it’s named after us because we had people sacrifice their lives for our language, so it really means a lot for representing my culture, my country and the language I speak,” Akbar said.

Mexico’s booth, run by biomedical engineering sophomore Natalie Guerrero, gave away churros; orejas, which are puff pastries; galletas de nuez, which are pecan cookies; strawberries and cream; and agua de jamaica and limon, which is hibiscus tea.

“I actually grew up in Mexico, so the churros are something that mainly is the more affordable [choice],” Guerrero said. “It’s usually two pesos anywhere you go. So, this [the food] is just everything I grew up with.”

Biochemistry junior Tiffany Nguyen, who helped run the Vietnam booth, said they wanted to showcase the Central Highlands, which are home to approximately 30 minority groups. The region is known for its coffee industry, with the booth giving away samples of black and milk coffee.

Hasna Vegam, representing the Sri Lankan booth, said her favorite part of her country is that even though it is small, it offers huge cultural and geographical diversity. This includes Nilaveli beach, religious places like the Temple of Tooth Relic and natural beauty like the Sinharaja rainforest.

“Sri Lanka is such a small country, but to come thousands of miles away and to have a stand here and actually to showcase the world, even though we are small … that means a lot to us … we want to show everyone what we have and to share our goodness with everyone,” Vegam said.

The Palestinian booth displays the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque, both important historical sites in Jerusalem, alongside family books. Gregory Binu | Mercury Staff

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