KEARNEY – The aroma of exotic cuisine greeted guests Sunday as they entered the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Health and Sports Center.
Inside the gymnasium, long rows of tables covered in white cloths showcased the smorgasbord that awaited them.
Nepalese chicken curry, Spanish paella, Japanese rice balls, Korean bulgogi, Vietnamese sweet and sour ribs. These dishes and plenty more were on the menu for the 43rd annual Scott D. Morris International Food and Cultural Festival.
Hosted by UNK’s International Student Association, the free event featured food and drink from 11 different countries, as well as cultural performances ranging from K-pop and martial arts to traditional Mexican dances.
Twin sisters Martina and Sara Mangiacavalli were all smiles as they served pasta al forno to a line of hungry attendees.
“We love our country and we love cooking – really, really love cooking,” said Martina, who came to UNK with her sister two months ago to experience life in the United States while studying advertising and public relations.
The siblings were excited to share their dish – baked rigatoni with meatballs, tomato sauce and “a lot of cheese” – along with information about their native Italy. They spent about four hours on Saturday preparing all the food.
“They asked us to make like six pans, but we made like 11 pans,” Martina said. “We’re Italian, so it’s our culture to do more, more, more.”
The 20-year-olds, who will spend one semester at UNK, are happy their time here included the International Food and Cultural Festival.
“I really love different cultures and food, so those two things together are like heaven for me,” Sara said.
About 100 students contributed to the event by assisting with the planning, preparing food, performing on stage or organizing informational tables with games and educational activities.
“Everyone comes together during the festival,” said Drishya Baral, president of the International Student Association. “It’s really great to see everyone working together and helping each other out.”
“I think it’s really important to unify the international students,” Baral added. “Plus, it’s just a fun event.”
A native of Nepal, Baral is among the more than 300 international students, representing roughly 50 countries, currently enrolled at UNK. The junior is majoring in advertising and public relations with an international studies minor.
“Kearney is so open-hearted and welcoming to us,” he said. “This is our way of giving something back to the community.”
Some of those community members, including Jo Borges, arrived around an hour before the doors opened to ensure they had a spot near the front of the line. Borges has attended the International Food and Cultural Festival for several years.
“I really enjoy it,” the Kearney resident said.
Borges, who is particularly fond of the food and stage performances, believes the event is a great way to promote cultural awareness and diversity.
“For the community, this is an opportunity to interact with students from different cultures and learn more about their countries,” she said.
Tim Burkink, assistant vice chancellor for international affairs at UNK, called the festival a “hallmark” event for Kearney.
“It really is a celebration of our international students and the richness they bring to our campus and community,” he said. “It’s also a reflection of how much the community values our international students by joining in the celebration.”
The International Food and Cultural Festival is sponsored by Morris Printing Group of Kearney, UNK LoperNites, the Pepsi Fund and UNK’s Office of International Education.