UM’s Culturefest adds spice to weekend

Posted Nov. 09, 2008, at 9:44 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:16 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — The aroma of foods typically not found in Maine enveloped those who stepped into the University of Maine Field House on Saturday, enticing them to taste the worldly cuisines of Culturefest ’08.

Exchange students dressed in traditional garb of their native countries served the edibles to hundreds, including fellow students and faculty who attended the 21st annual festival sponsored by the university’s Office of International Programs and National Student Exchange.

“I had something Pakistani and my mouth was on fire, but it was wonderful,” said Hermon resident Tara Shelley, who brought her children to the festival and met up with youngsters from Cub Scout Pack 25.

Nitu Gongal of Kathmandu, Nepal, a senior studying accounting, wore a black sari with gold details while serving a delectable coconut treat called raddoo.

“It’s actually a dessert,” Gongal said while handing a serving to Orono resident John Halloran. “It’s offered to God as good luck.”

Halloran purchased the raddoo for Leslie Hudson of Orono, who spent time in Nepal 20 years ago doing research and teaching environmental education.

“Both of us have traveled and worked overseas a fair bit” and wanted to experience a little culture at home, she said. “It’s sort of lacking in Orono most of the time. If you’re not on campus, you don’t get to interact” with the numerous cultures at UMaine.

In addition to food from Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Mexico and others, a Canada booth offered Tim Hortons coffee.

Members of the university’s International Student Association prepared the dishes, while others performed traditional dances. Culturefest also included a fashion show, informational tables, presentations and the opportunity to learn classic games from around the world.

In a Scoutmaster uniform, Shelley allowed her charges to break up into small groups, then met up with them while Caribbean dancers took the stage. Included in the group were her sons, Boy Scout Zach Shelley, 12, and Cub Scout Alex Shelley, 10, who said he enjoyed German gingerbread cookies and marble cake. He also got the chance to learn how to play cricket.

“It was awesome,” the youngster said.

The Scouts will be able to use their visit to earn badges for cultural diversity and seeing a live show, Tara Shelley said.

Brewer residents Matt, Jessie and Violet Damon met up with friends from Augusta at the festival. Matt Damon was in a long line of children and parents waiting to have UMaine graduate student Lin Lin of Fujiah, China, write their names in Chinese.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said, while Lin used calligraphy to create the symbols for his daughter’s name. “It’s interesting to see all the different cultures. I tried a lot of different foods. I had Venezuelan beef, German cake, [Mexican] empanadas, African food and Chinese dumplings.”

Damon said he was full at the time, but added, “I’ll probably go back for more.”

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