International Week events continue through Friday

Missoula-area residents flocked to the University of Montana on Sunday to stimulate their palates and their wanderlust.

For the 3,000-plus crowd at the annual International Culture and Food Festival it was an inexpensive trip around the globe.

"Since we don't get overseas often it's nice that overseas is brought to us," said Wendy Russell.

The event kicks off UM's International Week, a series of performances, lectures, films and other educational opportunities.

Russell and her 5-year-old son, Nathan, spent the afternoon sampling the exotic foods and hanging out in "Children's World," an area set aside to teach kids about global cultures with hands-on projects.

Kids could create wild animal masks, make world flags, learn origami and practice Japanese mime.

It was standing room only when UM student Jon Convington taught kids how to sumo wrestle. Convington said he was stunned by the turnout, but wasn't at all surprised by the youngsters' enthusiasm for the sport. "Kids love to move, and wrestling is just part of that" he said.

While taking a break from learning how to spell her name in Japanese, Holly Andrews, 9, said the festival has made her think about traveling.

"This is really interesting," Andrews said. "I'd like to go to Hawaii."

For culinary adventurers, there were hundreds of samples from more than 20 countries, such as Argentine empanadas, Indonesian satay, Malaysian curry puffs and Tibetan momos (steamed dumplings).

All of the food was prepared and cooked by UM's international students and community members.

"We love coming to this every year," said Heidi Halverson. "It's not very often you get this kind of food."

"It's so cool," said Halverson's daughter, Leigh Torcoletti, 8. "We love learning about the different cultures, too."

Crowds also filled the performance venue, where 18 different groups presented everything from Spanish dances to a traditional Japanese fashion show to Bulgarian folk songs.

Christy Tsang, a UM student from Hong Kong and one of the organizers of the event, said she is honored by droves of people who attend the festival each year.

"The purpose of this festival is to spread diversity," she said. "It's really nice that have so many people come. All of the foreign students feel very lucky because Missoula is a very liberal place that wants to share our cultures."

For parent Ann Corsi, the festival is a way open her daughters' horizons.

"For us, we've always had a great interest in other cultures and foods," Corsi said. "But we also want to show our daughters that the world isn't just America. It's beyond the borders of Montana and the United States."

The lesson is crucial, she said.

"We all have to live together and we need to try to understand each others' differences. That will benefit the whole community because we become more neighborly and look out for the benefit of each other," Corsi said.

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