Most students who walk down Rugby Road on a Friday night aren’t looking to make crêpes, but last week, the International Center
Open House had members of the Charlottesville and UVa communities trouping past the bastion of frats, kegs, and cheap vodka all the way to University Circle to make them. At the first ever IC Open House, volunteers, staff members, and students learned about the center’s activities as they learned about each other.
“One of the comments I hear the most from students who come to our programs is that they wish they knew about us earlier,” wrote Quynh Nguyen, Program Coordinator at the Lorna Sundberg International Center, in an email following up on Friday’s activities. “We decided to have an Open House to give everyone a taste of our programs.”
The event was run as part of a series of mini-lessons and activities. Visitors walking in could see some attendees spread out on the floor in the living room trying Pilates, while others folded origami in the dining room or blended peanut sauce in the kitchen.
“We normally do pizza and a movie. Instead we did bagel bites and clips of Chocolat,” said Jenna Dagenhart, Program Assistant and UVa student. Some of the activities were shifted around due to weather. “The Jamaican dance instructor, Jasmine Drake, ended up leading an empanada cooking class” instead.
Dagenhart says that she “always leave[s] the International Center smiling and thinking about how lucky we are that we live in a place where not only is it encouraged to learn about other cultures, but it’s possible.” She became involved in the IC as a first year after hearing about an activity they were hosting from the “Connections at UVa” newsletter. By her second year she volunteered to lead a German cooking class and realized that she would love to work with the IC.
Though the house wasn’t packed, the coordinators were happy with the turnout. “Most of the people who came [were] new to the IC, which was the group we targeted. They enjoyed participating in our activities and said they would definitely return,” wrote Nguyen.
Dagenhart’s favorite moment was the presence of first years, “because I was an orientation leader this summer, and one thing that we really stress to first years is to get involved, explore the university.”
So far this semester, the IC sees an increase in attendance after their appearance at the activities fair for the first time. “We wanted to
provide the opportunity for people to attend that didn’t necessarily sign up in advance,” said Dagenhart.
The charm of the center is that it feels like a home; friends gather around the kitchen before dinner, participants from all over the world connect over poorly flipped crepes, and create impressive paper cranes.
At a dumpling making lesson this Saturday, a first year met two French travelers, visiting Charlottesville for two weeks. They spoke together in French during the lesson, and by the end they exchanged information and promised to become pen pals. Though the food and movies at the IC are good, it’s the personal moments like these, that keep people coming back.
The IC is continuing its cooking series this year with several free classes every month. For more information about these and other events, check out their website or their Facebook page. In October, they are highlighting Halloween with ghost tours and pumpkin carving, to engage the international students in such American traditions.
Getting involved, Dagenhart pointed out, is “just as simple as signing up.”
More photos from the event: