The Cohen Center Ballroom at FGCU was filled with delicious scents, upbeat music and a diverse group of people the evening of Sept. 18. There was a piece of candy from a different part of the world at each place setting to greet attendees at FGCU’s 19th annual International Reception.
The International Reception has been the longest-running event of its kind at FGCU. It serves to welcome international students, welcome back study abroad students, recognize those involved with these programs and teach what the programs have to offer.
The event’s master of ceremonies was Gerritt VanderMeer, FGCU assistant professor of theater, who kept the event moving along smoothly while providing the audience with an appropriate dose of lighthearted humor.
VanderMeer first introduced Elaine Hozdik, FGCU’s director of international services, who gave a touching dedication in honor of late FGCU graduate Rebeca Olivera. Olivera was an international student from Campeche, Mexico. Olivera’s recent accidental death has left many with heavy hearts.
Ronald Toll, vice president of academic affairs, then welcomed the audience and shared his own traveling experiences and those of his children.
“This university will always invest in international education and visitors from any countries,” Toll said.
Student Body President Thieldens Elneus followed Toll’s welcome with his own, sharing that “our campus is unique” and gave the advice that students should “give and seek support when needed,” even if they may not necessarily want to.
Following a yearly tradition, Timothy Gjini, associate director of International Services, introduced the one student FGCU has this year representing a new country. Last year there was representation from four new countries, and this year, only one.
“We are running out of countries,” Gjini said.
Patson Siame of Zambia transferred to FGCU from Loyola Marymount and will be playing on the FGCU men’s basketball team. He made his way to the front of the room with the Zambian flag in hand and his country’s national anthem playing.
There were a few other chances for the audience to hear traditional music from other cultures. Dances were performed throughout the night, which offered a break from speeches and a look into
different cultures. Julia Joy of Raaga, Inc. performed a classical Bharatanatyam dance from India, which involved a lively soundtrack and traditional Indian clothing,.
Sisters and FGCU graduates Claire and Catherine Gorman performed a few traditional Celtic dances. Donning glittery outfits and boasting Ireland’s famous
green color, they got the crowd clapping along to their festive dance. The Gorman
sisters own a dance studio, Celtic Spirit School of Irish Dance.
The audience got to hear from several other faculty and students involved in International Services and Study Abroad.
Matt Ryan, assistant director of Study Abroad programs, said that “global understanding and cultural literacy are critical.” He then introduced some students who are studying abroad via videos that they had recorded specifically for this event.
A few students who were present had the opportunity to share with the audience information about their home countries. Pakistan and Tunisia were the two highlighted countries of the evening.
Darashik Abbas and Aisha Mazher shared pictures, videos and interesting information about Pakistan. Mazher is majoring in software engineering and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Mark Zuckerberg one day, “you know, to create something that can distract more people from doing their homework,” she said.
Iheb Njaimi of Tunisia gave an animated presentation sharing why everybody should visit his country, one of the reasons being that the Tunisian deserts are where ‘Star Wars” installments was filmed. Njaimi’s Eagle International Ambassador, Chad Hamman, a pre-nursing major at FGCU, said that he loves different cultures, and to be an ambassador, one should be “very good with cultures.”
Eagle International “I” Ambassadors are FGCU students who go through an application process to become the people who help international students acclimate to their new home at FGCU. There are 27 ambassadors, and each is responsible for one student they call their “eaglet.” For those interested, the application process occurs each spring.
“The ambassadors are instrumental in connecting with students before they get here and helping acculturate them once they have arrived,” Gjini said.
Every year, FGCU welcomes hundreds of international students. These students could be staying for all four years, only one semester, or they could be exchange students or scholars. As the university grows, the program grows with it, maintaining 1 to 1.5 percent of the student body as international.
“The program has grown very much since it started, and we would love to grow that number even more,” Gjini said.
One thing is certain: All in attendance to the reception left knowing that FGCU is committed to promoting international education, and after 19 years, it is not planning on slowing down.