Ravens Share Traditions, Celebrate Heritage at Cultural Festival

Ravens Share Traditions, Celebrate Heritage at Cultural Festival
  • One World
Janice Lewine

Offering a virtual trip around the world, the event showcased 26 countries and cultures represented in the school community.

The Cultural Festival, held March 17 in the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center, brought together families, students, faculty and staff, and special guests to share the array of music, dance, cuisine, attire and traditions that make up the rich fabric of the Ravenscroft community.

Offering a virtual trip around the world, the event showcased 26 countries and cultures represented in the school community, giving Ravens of all ages the opportunity to discover the many customs their classmates observe, broadening their worldview and enhancing their educational experience.

Clockwise from top left: Taufika Islam Williams shares information about Bangladesh; Emily Capell ’25 helps run the table for Great Britain; parents including Julia Wen (at center in red cardigan) join together to tell visitors about China.

“An opportunity to celebrate”

Ravens were especially eager for this year’s biennial festival, as the 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic. Run by the Global Education Department, the event was made possible with logistical and volunteer support from parent-led groups Global Parent Ambassadors, Parents’ Association and Parents Supporting Diversity and Inclusivity, as well as many Ravenscroft families. The Global Parent Ambassadors Fund, established by alumni parents Gail and Mike Kansler, supports this and other activities of the GPA.

Student volunteers also pitched in to help make the event a success. Art Club members created a large banner, and International Diploma students helped change sets for the performances, staffed booths and assisted with cleanup.

Melanie Spransy, Upper School world history teacher and Director of Global Education, said the event furthers many goals for students and their families.

International Diploma Coordinator Erin Kate Grady and Director of Global Education Melanie Spransy take a break from organizing event volunteers.

Multicultural Alliance members Lilja Gudmundsson ’23 and Jasmine Tran ’23 serve as emcees during the many performances and demonstrations.

“The Cultural Festival is an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate all the cultures represented within our own community. These opportunities on campus touch everyone and bond us together more. We’re lucky that we have so many countries represented on our campus,” she explained. “The environment of cultural inclusivity is exactly what global education is about. The idea that we can start to realize all of the diversity within our own community and learn to exercise cultural competency and responsiveness every day here at school — that’s the really nice part.”

“One of the best things, especially in this first year post-COVID, was the opportunity to reconnect and reengage as a community,” PA co-president Tamika Henderson added. “There’s no better way to do that than by sharing your cultural identity. For everyone to see themselves being valued is great. It opens up children to all the cultures represented at Ravenscroft, and it also encourages them to think about themselves as global citizens.”

Parents including Mansi Modi (at center with daughter Eva ’32) collaborate on a booth sharing food and cultural items from across India.

Ravens at the event are able to document the countries they visit using these green and gold passports.

“It teaches you all about different cultures”

Maps, flags, photos, artifacts, music and games captured the essence of Brazil, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Belarus, Slovakia, Lebanon, Trinidad, Ethiopia, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and more than a dozen other nations represented at booths in the dining hall. Ravens could earn stamps in replica passports as they traveled among the countries.

“I like the festival because it teaches you all about the different cultures, and you get to experience more about everything and how they do stuff,” Olivia Hykal ’32 said.

Eve Caudill ’25 said she particularly enjoyed the booth showcasing Germany, which featured fun facts about its cuisine, language, architecture and the autobahn. “I’m learning German right now. I’m mainly interested in the language and the culture. The festival is really interesting, and I’ve learned a lot,” she said.

Clockwise from top left: Third-graders Charlie BaldwinChloe Fofaria and Emma Baldwin get their passports stamped by parent volunteer Luisa Campos after visiting her booth on Colombia; a parent volunteer creates a beautiful image using henna; Maddy Duncan ’26 practices Chinese calligraphy; a Lower School student reads a poster about the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Parent volunteer Julia Wen said, “The Chinese parents worked together to bring different things to the festival, like a teapot and clothing called qipao.” Attendees also got to practice Chinese calligraphy, learn about the Chinese zodiac and savor White Rabbit candy, which is similar to taffy but is not as sweet. “It’s very traditional and has a long history in China. When I was very young, we all ate this candy,” Wen said.

In fact, many booths shared samples of their country’s cuisine. English biscuits, Chinese rice crackers, Indian appetizers and Colombian coffee delighted attendees’ taste buds.

“Food is our love language,” parent volunteer Mansi Modi said as she described the tantalizing cuisine from different regions in India offered to festival attendees. She also explained that candles and fresh flowers are used in homes to celebrate Diwali, the annual festival of lights, and that India’s Taj Mahal, built in 1648, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Clockwise from top left: Nick Gillespie ’24 serves Nicholas Suggs ’24 and Sam Hollingshead ’27 a sample of food at the booth for the Philippines; Smith Zola ’31 has his passport ready; Ava Lubsen ’26 and Beatrice Laskowski ’25 sample tea; an array of festive items decorates the table representing India.

RavenZone manager and parent volunteer Suzgo Kumwenda-Smith shared sima, a starchy food that is served as a side dish in Zambia. Participating in the festival “brings awareness to where I come from, as not many people have been to that side of Africa,” she said.

GPA co-chair Alba Becske, who grew up in Hungary, prepared goulash and csoroge, a crispy pastry. “The kids loved it,” she said, adding that she was touched by Ravens’ curiosity about Hungary. “That’s the whole purpose of the festival, to teach them how different the world is.”

“They all looked so proud”

Ravens also showcased their cultures with performances, including Garrett Hill ’23 (Irish dance), Charlotte Wang ’30 and Emily Zeng ’30 (Chinese dance), and Maddi Maurio ’23 and Rosie Kennel (tap dance, which has roots in Ireland and Africa). Head of Middle School Bernardo Guzmán sang and played both traditional and contemporary Mexican music on his guitar. In addition, students from Master Chang’s and Lee Brothers wowed the crowd with martial arts, Carolina Indian Arts showcased traditional dance, and brothers Joseph and Matthew Chu demonstrated Chinese yo-yo.

Above, clockwise from top left: Sara Baende ’23 models vibrant Congolese fashion sewn by her mother; Garrett Hill ’23’s gravity-defying Irish dance wows the crowd; Joseph Chu demonstrates the awe-inspiring art of Chinese yo-yo; Emily Zeng ’30 performs a traditional Chinese dance to much applause from the audience.

Sara Baende ’23 and family modeled Congolese fashions that her mother, Isabelle Ekofo-Mbomba, sewed herself. “Clothes are very colorful and made of a different type of fabric specific to Congo,” Sara explained. While creating displays for the Democratic Republic of Congo booth, she was able to “to learn more about my own country, like the music and art.”

Lilja Gudmundsson ’23 gave a folklore speech about the Yule Lads, a group of pranksters who visit children in Iceland on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. She and Jasmine Tran ’23 — who founded the Multicultural Alliance affinity group, which aims to create a space where Ravens who identify as multiracial can share experiences — served as student leaders for the festival and emceed the performances. They also created booths highlighting their respective countries of Iceland and Vietnam.

“A few of my friends got emotional at the festival because they felt that it was such a fun and wholesome event that included so many members of our community, and it was really great to see,” Jasmine said. “All of this positive feedback and love from our peers really makes the Cultural Festival one of our favorite memories in high school. We are so glad it could come back after a long hiatus due to the pandemic, and it’s even more special that it happened in our senior year.”

Asia Austin, co-chair of PSDI — whose mission is to promote an inclusive environment that welcomes, accepts and respects all families — said, “The Cultural Festival perfectly aligns with PSDI, as the event brings cultural awareness to Ravenscroft’s campus and celebrates diversity. I’m most proud when I think of the performers who shared a little of their culture with the crowd. They all looked so good and so natural but, most importantly, proud.”

GPA co-chair Charlie Britt agreed. “This opportunity for our entire community to celebrate our unique experiences and cultures, and how those differences make us all stronger, cannot be overstated,” he said. “While I love the displays and food from all over the globe, my favorite part of the day was seeing kids simply being kids and interacting in this wonderful social environment we created.”

Enjoy this compilation video showcasing some of the performances and demonstrations from the festival.

At top, parent volunteer Swati Mittal creates a design using henna, one of the many cultural explorations offered at booths and tables during the Cultural Festival.