By Lauren Cohen
On Feb. 28th the Oak Hall and greater Gainesville community came together to celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity on campus and beyond with the fourth annual International Festival. The purpose of this event is to increase cross-cultural interaction within the Gainesville community, and it did just that.
The intent of the festival is to highlight the diversity of Oak Hall’s student population, demonstrate the school’s enthusiasm for global education, and its commitment to making the world a better place by better understanding one another. “I think it epitomizes what we are trying to accomplish in our school’s mission statement,” said Libby Karow, founder and faculty advisor for the International Festival. Oak Hall’s mission statement reads as follows: “A welcoming, diverse, and supportive learning community empowering students to pursue their academic, athletic, and artistic passions, and our core values are scholarship, leadership, and service.”
Karow and the Upper School International Club hope to continue to increase Lower and Middle School student and parent participation in future years. “We want to involve as many families as possible and expand our reach into the community,” Karow added. This year, the festival brought around 2,000 people from across Gainesville, with more than 40 different countries represented. “My favorite part of the festival was teaching people about the culture of Israel,”,added Oak Hall Sophomore, Amanda Malnik. Exhibitors had the opportunity to share not only cultural knowledge, but traditional recipes as well. Malnik helped attendees of the booth make a traditional Israeli salad called tabouli that ended up being a big hit among visitors. “Many people were fascinated by the dish and found it to be tasty,” Malnik noted.
The International Club worked to reach out to every cultural and religious club they could identify in Gainesville and at the University of Florida. Friday was the start of many college students’ Spring Break and unfortunately, a dozen of the festival’s regular groups were unable to attend this year because of it. The goal of the International Club is to cultivate better global awareness and the festival is just the vehicle for this mission.
“I also really enjoy the fact that this event draws disparate groups together – the visual art students, the performing art students, the football players, the mathletes, the debaters, the cheerleaders, and others – all come together for this project,” Karow articulated.
Students, families, and faculty alike are all deeply appreciative of the opportunity to learn not only about others but themselves as well. “This event is important to me because it allows me to learn about other cultures and understand more about myself and my own heritage,” noted Oak Hall sophomore Eva Okunieff.