NU Festival of Languages and Cultures celebrates community’s diversity


Photo courtesy of Ekaterina Mironenko

Ekaterina Mironenko, a Fulbright Russian language assistant, stands at a language table in Kresge Hall. The booth was part of NU’s Festival of Languages and Cultures.

Samanta Habashy, Reporter

Students passing by The Rock last Monday and Tuesday were met with cultural foods and snacks from across the globe, including the Brazilian Guarana soda and truffles.

Several Northwestern language departments hosted the tables and other events to celebrate the Festival of Languages and Cultures last week. The event organizers hope to teach students about the smaller linguistic programs offered at NU, according to Turkish Prof. Oya Topçuoğlu, the chair of the Council on Language Instruction.

Five language professors, including German Prof. Ingrid Zeller, and three Fulbright language assistants, made the second year of the festival possible. 

“It’s really about understanding each other and developing an interest in different cultures and learning about them,” Zeller said. “By having an event like this, I really think that brings the point home.” 

Topçuoğlu said the festival aims to celebrate the achievements of language students and the diversity of languages and cultures represented on campus.

She said she hopes to increase enrollment in language programs through the event. 

“There are several small language programs on campus that are not necessarily very visible, so NU students are not even aware that those programs exist,” Topçuoğlu said.

Topçuoğlu said the festival is a way to show the student body that learning a new language and becoming familiar with a new culture is important. Those skills allow students to travel with more cultural knowledge, she said. 

Portuguese Prof. Ana Thomé Williams, a festival co-organizer, said knowing languages can change students’ futures by introducing new career paths and creating an appreciation for different cultures. Portuguese is also a smaller program at the University, she said. 

“At one of the tables, most passing by knew that Portuguese was spoken in Brazil, but they had no idea that Portuguese is also spoken in several countries in Africa,” Williams said.

On Wednesday, Nefise Kaya, a local Turkish Ebru artist, led a hands-on workshop on traditional paper marbling. Topçuoğlu said cultural events help strengthen students’ connections to local communities. 

Weinberg sophomore Jovana Lakic, who studies Turkish, attended the workshop. She said the festival, in addition to creating community, provides an opportunity to better understand the world.

On Thursday, a variety show, presenting cultural poetry, dances and movies, displayed language student skills. 

“It’s amazing to see the students come together because of their shared passion for language and cultures and exploring their creativity freely,” Williams said. “The variety show brings a sense of commonality, and I am so impressed by all of the students.”

Fatima Alhammadi, a Fulbright language assistant in Arabic, worked behind the scenes of the festival and was involved with marketing and preparing posters and flyers ahead of time.

Singing in Arabic during the variety show, Alhammadi aimed to highlight the United Arab Emirates.

“Representation is my biggest motive,” Alhammadi said. “There are a lot of Arabic speakers out there who have different dialects and come from different countries.”

Spanish Prof. Raquel Amorese ran a table for her department in Kresge Hall. She said she loved informing students about the Hispanic world as they played trivia at her table.

She said the festival helps students realize how wonderful the language departments are. The event gives students a special opportunity to practice Spanish with each other, Amorese added. 

“It’s important to show the diversity of the Northwestern campus,” Amorese said. “We don’t learn a language in a vacuum, it’s about the culture — the food, clothes (and) music.”

Williams is hopeful for the future of the festival and is considering implementing smaller events throughout the year to lead up to the spring festival and variety show.

She said the festival brings a sense of community and belonging, while also allowing individual talents and cultural perspectives to shine through. 

“Like languages, this festival only works when everyone comes together and we can support and learn from each other,” Williams said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @HabashySam

Related Stories: 

NU Festival of Languages and Cultures showcases linguistic diversity

Northwestern language programs see enrollment across most programs decline

Gates: Don’t forget the value of foreign language