I still remember my first impression of Harrisonburg. It was a cloudy and windy day, when I got off the smallest plane – that can barely fit 10 people– I have ever been on. Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport was also the smallest airport I have ever visited. There were only 10 of us, passengers, a ticket controller, and a shuttle bus driver in the airport, who was kind enough to give us a ride to Harrisonburg. Always lived in an urban area, Harrisonburg seemed to be such a lifeless and deserted place at first. As an international student, I moved in earlier than other James Madison University students. That’s probably the reason why it felt so empty in the town. As a school week started, thousands of students filled up the James Madison University beautiful campus. Until last week Harrisonburg for me consisted only of James Madison University students and their families. Its borders started from Walmart and Valley mall and ended at Memorial hall. I had never actually been to the city’s downtown, except for my friends’ apartment maybe, but still I had no idea what Harrisonburg and its local citizens were. Fortunately, I finally got a chance to take a look at this city’s community.
The word "Love'' in different languages at Harrisonburg Festival
We celebrated James Madison University International week, with a theme “Borders and Boundaries.” The events throughout the week included such events as the student debate on a serious problem of a harm and benefits of US wiretapping, which I found really involving and useful, the culture parade of various students organizations, a music concert, study abroad fair, photo contest, and a world cup soccer tournament, which I participated in as a part of VietChamps team. The highlight of the week was definitely Harrisonburg International Festival on September 28, 2013 – “a celebration honoring the diverse cultures and backgrounds that make up the local community”(Harrisonburg-international-festival.org). It was my first Harrisonburg cultural experience. Before coming here I stereo-typically thought that Harrisonburg consisted 99% of whites; this festival, however, broke all my expectations. I learnt how actually diverse this community is.
The International Festival, which took place at Virginia’s beautiful Hillandale Park, provided a friendly forum which allowed people to learn and share each other’s cultural and linguistic values. It offers so much wonderful things, such as cuisines from all over the world, music, dance, a multi-language area that featured traditional folk art, and many other. As a member of Vietnamese Students Association (VSA), I came out to the Fashion Show of International Cultural Dress, one of events of this festival, to support my members and learn about other cultures’ traditional costumes. The colorfulness of these stunning costumes brightened up the atmosphere of the whole festival. One of the performers, my friend, borrowed my Ao Dai, which I myself haven’t ever worn before. It looked gorgeous on her; the snow white dress with the patterns of peachy pink lotuses worn with bright pink pantaloons perfectly represents the pure flawless beauty of a Vietnamese woman. I really enjoyed this magnificent show. After this, my friends and I went to have some food. There were delicious drools-dropping delicacies from different countries, such as Mexico, India, Brazil, Argentina, and Italia. I had a refreshing Taiwanese boba tea, also known as bubble tea, a delicious mix of tea with exotic flavors and/or creamy milk filled with boba, sweet “bubbles” made of tapioca or juice, and ate some sticky rice cake with mango. The food was probably the best part of the festival. I also enjoyed a fascinating show of African music, which reflected a playful and cheerful spirit of the festival. I bought some exclusive bracelets from the World Bazaar of unique hand-made and imported art and souvenirs. Walking around from one corner to another, it felt like as if I were traveling from one country to another. The drawings of nearly 50 flags on the asphalt left a huge impression on me. As I found my country’s flag I felt proud in some way and delighted, that my little country was recognized and included. This was a wonderful experience that I would never have in my hometown. Although there are also many cultural activities and festivals in Russia, there is no such a friendly tight-knit community as it is here in Harrisonburg.
Harrisonburg International Festival was not only a language opportunity, but also a great educational learning opportunity to share different opinions for enhancing Harrisonburg’s intercultural community and engaging global concerns. This Festival supports different cultures’ awareness and their contributions to the society. Thanks to this experience I get to know Harrisonburg and its community, which I am now a part of, better. It was an incredible way to spend a great time with your friends and learn with a pleasure. I am looking forward to the next festival, and can’t wait to be a part of it next year.