Saani Mohammed stands below a connected banner of international flags in traditional Ghanaian attire and basks in the exposure for his country.
Finally, he feels seen, he said.
Not just a statistic or body walking across Oklahoma State University’s campus.
Mohammed finally acted as if he was home. He was. Kinda.
OSU’s International Student Organization hosted its annual International Bazaar, a three-hour fun fest filled with dozens of global foods, strong flavor and music, on Saturday afternoon in the Wes Watkins Center.
“This is big exposure for us,” Mohammed said. “Mostly Africa is not portrayed in the positive light. But we have our food here. Some of us have our national cultural dresses. People seem them and they’re like, ‘Who are these people?’ Then we talk about it. It makes us feel included.”
More than 200 students and Stillwater residents bounced from 12 booths and sampled deserts and entrees from more than 12 countries or regions.
It’s times like Saturday that show food and community can bring folks together.
“The purpose of today is to show Stillwater community the diversity of international students that we have here on campus,” Salome Suarez, International Student Organization president said. “Each area club has prepared different dishes from their own country. We want everybody to see how the dishes are from other parts of the world.”
Foods ranged from the Bangladeshi students’ tandoori chicken to the Latino American students’ cheese empanadas. Lots of desert, too.
Within hours, the exhibit hall transformed into a multicultural kitchen.
Tim Huff, ISO’s adviser, said the event began more than three decades ago. It’s one of ISO’s five annual events and the purpose remains.
“It gives all these students a home,” Huff said. “They feel like they belong when they’re here. You can see them just relax and get into it. It’s very important to see the true nature and culture of these kids because they settle in here.”
Many of the foods appeared similar. Lots of chicken and different meats. But cultural differences appeared in the bite and the food’s preparation.
The Nepalese Student Organization sold about 750 momos, steamed dumplings filled with chicken and vegetables.
Niranjan Pokhrel, a horticulture master’s student from Nepal said the group started making the food at 6 p.m. Friday night. The job wasn’t finished until 3:30 a.m.
It’s no easy task.
“It takes a lot of effort to make that,” he said. “It’s also a skill thing. Not everyone can make it. We had some people’s friends and seniors were really good at making it.”
In Persian culture, kitchens are the realm of women, Yaser Shamsi, Iran native and doctorate student in OSU’s English department, said. Men perform tasks of manual labor such as moving large pots. But women make the food.
“Even looking at the way people celebrate things and the way people cook (are different),” Shamsi said. “You can cook the same ingredient when you just buy it from a shop like Walmart. But when it goes home and it goes through the process that happens in the kitchen, it is the culture, the background and the people that makes the final dish that you see here.”
His wife made most of the Iranian items, such as falafel.
“Having a community of Iranian people just makes me feel as if it’s not that far away from family,” Shamsi said. “OSU is really international friendly. This is one of the events that I really appreciate.”
OSU boasted 1,519 international students in fall 2022, according to OSU international student statistics provided to The O’Colly.
Mayank Talreja, a master’s student from India, represents OSU’s largest international community. The country’s 418 students make it OSU’s biggest international population.
The Indian Student Association also won the event’s best desert content with its kalakand, an Indian milk cake.
“That is what encourages us and gives me a motivation to do something for students,” Talreja said. “We help students transition their life from India to a new country here. It’s been great that a lot of friends are here from our country.”
ISO will also host its Culture Night on April 8 in the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts, another opportunity for OSU’s international students.