Night at the Museum – Penn Museum Promoting Cross-cultural Interactions

First, you're welcomed by a dance performance, mixing modern and African-style music, then, another group performing Middle Eastern traditional dance and drumming. Nearby, an ancient golden mummy mask shined with its glistening features. All the while, one could not help but notice the statue of the heroic Ramses II, the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, in the middle of the stage, facing the audience. In fact, the whole space was decorated with artifacts from Ancient Egyptian culture. That is the unique part of the Festival for International Students, held on October 19, at Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology).  

The Festival for International Students is an annual reception, which invites international students and scholars from around the Philadelphia region to celebrate and share their cultures. Penn Museum opened their entire gallery space to more than 600 international guests, featuring the Chinese, Egyptian and Canaan, and the Ancient Israel Galleries as central locations for celebrations.

The mystical sensation one felt while spending the night amid the ancient artifacts created a unique experience that not many other cultural events can create. However, the true highlight of the event was the guests in attendance, who represented more than 60 countries.

With support from regional organizations and student groups, the reception provided many table activities which promoted intercultural interactions in the museum galleries. Entering through the China Gallery, you had the chance to interact with a student, whose smile can take away your shyness. She took you to her table to show you how to introduce yourself in Swahili. At another table, you could try on Uzbek traditional dresses or experience the demonstration on the art of Ebru,Turkish Marbling. One could even hear a vibrant symphony of conversations in different languages from all around the world. In one corner, an Indian student practiced his Russian by trying his best to strike up a conversation with a Russian guest. At another corner, two Chinese students excitedly tried on Mongolian traditional clothes.

Right in the middle of it all, Hitomi Yoshida, the Diversity Programs Manager of the International Classrooms, paraded around the hall, greeting students and scholars at the event and wore a Japanese Kimono Coat – a traditional coat worn during the Japanese festival to represent happiness and enjoyment.  

Hitomi joined the project three years ago and, along with her event team members and partners, enhanced the reception to highlight the contribution of international students and scholars in the Philadelphia region. Reflecting on the experiences of former international students, she wanted to make a strong statement that the city of Philadelphia can further promote global activities by activating international students and scholars. This commitment was evident through the numerous organizations that came out to support the festival, including the key event partners, Penn Language Center, Penn Global, Global Philadelphia Association and Campus Philly.

This year, the event’s most  significant change was its alignment with the mission of the #Youarewelcomehere campaign, started by the Temple University’s Office of International Affairs, one of the major sponsors of the reception. This campaign has now expanded to over 50 universities across the states with the purpose of creating “a message of welcome from U.S. higher education to international students around the world.”  

The mission of the event was to create a place where international students and scholars from area universities could feel they are important, and play a vital part in the Philadelphia community. By looking at the attendees' expressions, one could see that vision realized. The festival created an atmosphere that encouraged cross-cultural interactions and allowed people to proudly share their culture and learn about others. The night truly was an “international classroom,” one which offered a learning experience for everyone –international and domestic.

Written by Hoang “Rico” Le on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association

Rico Le, originally from Hanoi, Vietnam, is an undergraduate student at Temple University, studying Communication and Social Influence. Event assistant intern for Penn Museum and  current president of a student-run magazine focusing on International issues (Freely Magazine)