Celebrating (and Counting) Culture at IUPUI

By Deborah Hirt Neary, Office of International Affairs, IUPUI

Can you guess how many countries are represented in the student body at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)?

Most Hoosiers I asked said around 30, and one person even guessed 90.

I’ll give you a hint, it’s pretty close to the number of countries in the United Nations (hopefully that hint helped). Turns out, students from 150 countries are right here in downtown Indy at IUPUI!

This diversity is truly amazing and can be easy to miss…except during the month of February.

Starting on February 1, all four floors of the IUPUI Campus Center are transformed into a vibrant display of 192 flags borrowed from the International Center’s flag collection. This burst of color, culture, and history proudly makes everyone aware that February is “international month” on campus.

It’s been fascinating to see how students respond – both in person and increasingly more on social media. IUPUI’s Instagram and Facebook photos featuring the flags had LOTS of interactions and served to both impress and educate. Students posed questions like “Why no Hong Kong flag?” (response: It’s not a UN member state) and “Is South Sudan included?” (response: Yes, good call!).

 Enough geeking-out about flags. February also hosts two of IUPUI’s most popular and super fun events: our International Festival and our International Club’s Fashion Show!

For 11 years the IUPUI International Festival has celebrated our campus and community’s global connections with a day full of food, performances and exhibits. International student and community groups take over two levels of the Campus Center, each with interactive displays. Free international food samples are one of the most popular draws, like chicarronnes de pollo (Puerto Rico) and fried plantains (Ivory Coast) this past year. And student performers continually impress audiences with their cultural talents like bhangra dancing and music from Iran.

But the festival also educates campus visitors with lectures, presentations, and opportunities to engage with others from other cultures and backgrounds.

Thanks to support from the Festival Fund, we’ve been able to expand our food offerings and get better, bolder signage to advertise the festival – and get more people to attend (even on a -8 degree day!). Green t-shirts funded by our Festival Fund grant also helped recruit more volunteers and serve as prize giveaways. This generous grant has enabled the festival to grow without charging a fee for admission or food, truly enabling all to participate.

Additionally in February, the International Fashion Show features IUPUI students modeling fashions from around the world to a cheering crowd of 500+ people. If this promo video doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will!

We hope that these February events give a taste of just how much cultural diversity enriches our campus and truly can enhance our own Hoosier culture and values.

As the world becomes smaller, we know that IUPUI is graduating more leaders who are working on global challenges and opportunities like international trade and climate change. And they’re working at firms like Eli Lilly (with pharmaceutical sales in 143 counties) and Cummins (with sales in 190 countries). And who knows, maybe one day all 193 UN member countries will be represented at IUPUI!