International Student Council Feeds Mouths and Spirits with Annual Dinner
Traditionally held in-person in Alden Memorial, the International Dinner is a colorful buffet of food and live entertainment presented by the International House and the International Student Council. Due to the pandemic, however, presenters had to “think outside the box” on how to make this year’s dinner COVID-safe.
Turns out, “box” was part of the answer. This year’s dinner evolved into “International To Go,” featuring pre-made boxes of different foods for attendees to pick up and take home to enjoy, and prerecorded entertainment that was streamed from a YouTube playlist.
“We had to completely revamp the event while keeping its spirit alive,” says Bhanuj Jain ’22, a physics and mathematical sciences double major and president of the International Student Council. “We didn’t always know what our limitations were because of COVID, and we ended up having to change plans multiple times.”
Regardless of the challenges, the International Student Council, which is responsible for planning and hosting the dinner every year, worked with the International House and other campus partners to hold the event, now in its 34th year, on Nov. 20. Colleen Callahan-Panday, director of International Student Life, helped fill and hand out boxes that included food purchased from Worcester international restaurants, such as Momo Palace in the Worcester Public Market, Fatima’s Café on Gold Star Boulevard, and Miranda’s Bread on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, along with items cooked by Chartwells.
“We wanted to capture the essence of our traditional buffet in our boxes,” says Callahan-Panday. “It gave me an extra warm feeling to support local restaurants, especially as some of them are struggling during the pandemic. Chartwells did a wonderful job, too, and was a huge supporter of the dinner.”
What’s On the Menu?
Each “International To Go Box” included three small appetizers, two half-portion entrees, and two small desserts. Attendees were also able to choose a meat-based box or vegetarian box when they purchased tickets to the dinner ahead of time.
The vegetarian box included:
Appetizers: Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), falafel with hummus (Middle Eastern), and vegetable momo dumplings with tomato dipping sauce (Nepalese)
Entrees: Paneer tikka masala with a side of rice (Indian) and misir wot lentil stew with fresh made injera flat bread (Ethiopian)
Desserts: Tres leches cake (Latin American), and mandazis (Kenyan fried donuts)
The meat-based box included:
Appetizers: Pao de queijo, falafel with hummus, and chicken momo dumplings with tomato dipping sauce
Entrees: Zaa’tar spiced leg of lamb (Middle Eastern) with a side of Jollof rice (Nigerian), and chicken mole with refried beans, plantains, and yellow rice (Central American)
Dessert: Tres leches cake, and mandazis
Jain and other members of the International Student Council collected videos of dances and musical performances submitted by the various international student groups on campus, and composed a playlist for dinner attendees to watch from home. The playlist embraced the theme of “Global Together,” Callahan-Panday says, which reflects the current times of interacting and connecting with others digitally.
For some attendees, like Taylor Garnes, assistant director of the Office of Accessibility Services, connecting digitally wasn’t an obstacle to having a good time—in fact, it was one of the reasons she was able to attend this year. The convenience of placing her box orders online, picking them up at the Campus Center, and bringing them home to eat with her fiancé made her first International Dinner enjoyable. She was also still able to chat with other attendees online without a hitch.
“Due to COVID-19, it’s been tough to come up with dinner ideas, so this was a fun new thing,” she says.
The digital nature of this year’s dinner didn’t faze Kim Wykes, either. The wonderful food, community spirit, and students’ creativity has had her coming back for the last ten years.
“I look forward to experiencing how international students conceptualize this event each year. Their themes have always been unique and relevant,” says Wykes, the operations administrator for Student Activities. “This year's theme, #GlobalTogether, was quite fitting. No matter where international students resided during the pandemic, they managed to deliver their unified message in a recorded video montage to celebrate virtually.”
Around 220 people participated in the “International To Go” dinner, which is close to the 256 limit of attendees that are typically able to attend the in-person event in Alden Memorial. Callahan-Panday counts this as a huge success, especially since COVID cancelled numerous other events earlier in the year.
Watch the live-streamed compilation of performances by WPI’s various international student groups.
The biggest feat of all, Callahan-Panday says, was the students’ unity and teamwork to make the event even happen, despite the darkness of 2020.
“The idea of not doing this dinner, which is the International Student Council’s largest event of the year, was sad,” she says. “Without the students coming together and planning it, the event wouldn’t have happened. As the advisor of the International House Student Council, I’m so proud of these students; they’ve been through a lot this year, like not being able to travel home and see their parents in person, among other things. They never gave up despite the barriers they faced.”
“I hope the event showed people that even though this year was chaotic and uncertain, it doesn’t mean we can’t be together,” Jain echoes. “We never know what tomorrow will be like, so it is especially important now, more than ever, to celebrate each other and the good things we have.”