A group of eight exchange students from Japan practiced tirelessly, for weeks, in the basement of Banks Hall to get everything right. The placement, the rhythm, the movements, the steps.
By the time they unveiled their act at Columbia College’s International Extravaganza on Nov. 14, most of their hallmates had already seen snippets of the act before. Once the students put the entire synchronized dance routine together, complete with music and matching outfits, the last of nine acts at this year’s event brought the crowd of about 130 people in Dorsey Gym to its feet.
“It’s really special for me, because we have a lot of international students and this is one event where we get to showcase our cultures and our countries,” said Jerry Nguyen, vice president of the Columbia College International Club, which hosts the annual International Extravaganza in coordination with the school’s International Center. “I love watching all the talent and how they put a lot of work into their performances. I just love the conversations that happen afterwards. I feel like conversations about other countries and diversity need to happen more, and this is one of those events that sparks those conversations.”
Nguyen, a senior majoring in public relations, was born in Vietnam and came over to the United States to attend Columbia College. She has participated in the International Extravaganza each of her four years on campus and was the event’s emcee this year.
The International Extravaganza brings together the college community for an afternoon of food and fun from around the world. Dorsey Gym, the setting, featured informational banners from 15 different countries hanging from its balcony.
It’s a chance for the Columbia College international population, which numbers almost 100 students, to take center stage.
“We always tell people, ‘Do whatever you’re good at,’ and we always have a great variety of talents that people bring forward,” Nguyen said. “The night before the Extravaganza, we have a three-hour dress rehearsal. We just practice all together, address all questions. There were a lot of changes happening that night. We just need a lot of flexibility as well.”
A student from Japan played the piano, one from Korea played the piano and sang, a student from Ecuador sang and played her guitar, and a student from Kazakhstan sang. An American student who studied abroad in Peru through Columbia College gave a presentation on the country, Nguyen and three of her fellow Vietnamese students performed a traditional dance, and the yearly fashion show featured clothing from Zimbabwe, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Kazakhstan and Vietnam.
And, of course, the Japanese students’ dance brought the house down.
“(The International Center) created a great foundation for the (international) community within the larger community on campus,” Nguyen said. “Normally I get support from my friends and the International Center, and the professors and staff on campus are extremely helpful and supportive as well. I feel like I can come to anybody, not just the International Center. That’s what I really appreciate.”
Nguyen even got some volunteers from the crowd to participate in a Vietnamese “bamboo dance.” People sit on the ground parallel from each other, holding bamboo rods, on either side of the dance floor, hold them slightly apart and tap them on the ground in rhythm. The dancers then have to time their jumping between the tapping of the rods to get from one side of the dance floor to the other.
Nguyen found she had more success calling for volunteers before telling them what it involved this year.
“People get to see, like, ‘Hey, I’m not going to break my ankle!’” Nguyen said. “Some people came up to me afterwards and asked if we could do it again. That makes me really happy.”
Check out more pictures of this year’s International Extravaganza below!