On Friday, April 14, the University of Denver will celebrate CultureFest at 4 p.m. in the Driscoll Ballroom. For more than 30 years, it has been a tradition to celebrate the diversity of the DU community — from the sports we play and the music we enjoy to our shared and individual experiences. The primary student organizer for this year’s CultureFest is Georgina Ellison, who moved to the United States when she was a teenager. She recently sat down with the DU Newsroom to discuss some of her life experiences and to offer a sneak preview of this year’s CultureFest.
Q: As someone who was born abroad and then moved to the United States as a teenager, what was your experience like of coming to the U.S.?
A: There were good days and bad days, because it threw my whole notion of identity out the window, and I struggled because, as a teenager, I thought I had to prove my identity to my classmates at a time when I had no idea who I was. I sometimes felt left out because I didn’t understand some of the pop cultural references my friends would talk about. Other days, I felt really glad that I could offer new perspectives to a discussion. It deepened my interest in global events and ultimately led me to study international relations while I was at college and pursue a career in helping people who are having a similar transition in their lives. I love that I can relate to a lot of the feelings our international students have while they are here in the United States. I have been in the U.S. for so long now that it is hard for me to feel at home in either culture, so I have formed a sense of community by befriending people who have had similar life experiences and interests.
Q: The International House does a lot to make sure DU has a diverse international population, and also provides an opportunity for students to travel abroad and see other cultures. How has it helped you and other students have the opportunity to interact with a diverse population?
A: Having such a diverse community at DU in terms of identity, but also life experiences, has really enriched my experience at DU, especially in the classroom. Everyone has such a different and unique view of the world, that it makes for great classroom discussions because no one person approaches the problem or situation the same way. Outside of the classroom there are always a plethora of events that celebrate or educate the community. For example, I recently attended a talk on International Mother Tongue day, and I had no idea that there are almost 7,000 spoken languages in the world. A few days later, I was able to contribute to an in-class discussion about marketing across different languages. When it comes to identity and culture, there is always something more that we can learn or experience. The more people that engage in this practice of learning, whether it be through studying abroad or just learning about our unique DU Community through events on campus, then we are doing something not only for our own learning but also enriching the learning that every student is doing in the classroom.
Q: You are the leading student organizer for this year’s CultureFest. Why do you think it’s important for students and the DU community to attend and experience the event?
A: CultureFest just scratches the surfaces in terms of the vibrant and diverse cultures we have here at DU. We wanted this year’s theme to be “Celebrating Our Worlds,” because that is what we are doing. We are bringing people together from all corners of campus who want to proudly show a culture that is important to them. There is a great global community here on campus, and once a year you can find all of them in the same space to celebrate as one DU community. It is a great chance to learn about the different opportunities and organizations you can get involved in at DU and maybe even learn a little something. Sometimes students think that they can only experience another culture by traveling to another country, but that is definitely not the case. There are such rich cultural experiences we can have here on campus — sometimes you just have to look in the right places.
Q: When people hear CultureFest, they might think this event is only for people from different cultures to experience, but that’s not the case.
A: Not at all. The key thing to remember is that everyone has culture, even if you don’t know it yet! The New Yorker is very different from the Texan. The dancer is different from the mathematician. We need to stop viewing culture as a black and white concept. Culture is fluid, and culture is in all of us! I challenge everyone who attends CultureFest to enjoy the event but also use it as a tool to start thinking about the unique cultural offerings he/she offers to the DU community.