International Street Fair Dishes Out Culture On Court Street

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Sarah Al-Harrasi's traditional Omani dress stood out among the bricks of Court Street, drawing the attention of passersby by the dozens looking in wonder at the array of intricate embroidery and beadwork.

"Would you like to hear about Oman?" she inquired to them, pointing to a series of posters and graphics providing an insight into the Middle Eastern country of around four million people.

Hers was one of many booths lining downtown Athens for the annual International Street Fair on Saturday afternoon, with samples of cuisine and culture from around the world.

For Al-Harrasi, a freshman journalism major, the opportunity to dispel stereotypes of the Middle East is the most rewarding part. She is part of the university's Omani Student Association, which hosts Arabic language workshops and a culture night each school year.

"Usually people think Middle Eastern women just stay at home," she said, noting how Omani women are encouraged to attend higher education and pursue careers. "It's not true. We have a lot of freedom."

Alongside tables and foodstands representing different countries and cultures, several were dedicated to humanitarian efforts worldwide. These included informational tables for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Peace Corps.

On one side of Court Street, members of the African Student Union offered traditional bead necklaces. Near them, tables of Asian origins sold suman (a rice cake) and lumpia, a pastry similar to a spring roll.

The most popular dish of all came from the table representing Indonesia, with a long line waiting for a traditional noodles plate.

The street fair is one of the highlights of the university's International Week, organized by the International Student and Faculty Services department. The events help celebrate the diversity on campus and throughout the Athens community.

According to the department, international students make up seven percent of the university's student population. More than 100 countries are represented within the student body.

Most of all, the International Street Fair is a popular outlet for cultural student organizations to reach out to the community.

At the Turkish Students Association table, visitors were greeted with vegetarian lentil patties. Fulya Kayaalp, a graduate student in industrial engineering, said TSA's involvement in the street fair is one of the highlights of the school year. The day helps provide legitimacy to the group on the same level as much larger cultural groups on campus, Kayaalp said.

As one of just six Turkish students at OU, Kayaalp wanted to serve knowledge of her home country alongside lentil. The table's trivia game started out with a question of Turkey's main language (most incorrectly guessed Arabic instead of Turkish).

"This is the best day of the year," Kayaalp said, stirring the lentil patties which resemble meatballs. "Our first aim is to teach people about Turkey."