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Annual ISO Cultural Evening celebrates international community

ISO Cultural Evening showcases student cultures from around the globe; Vietnamese students performed a traditional dance. Photo by Sarina Lincoln

By Audrey Boyle

This past weekend, Grinnell College’s International Student Organization (ISO) hosted its annual Cultural Evening, which showcases performances from various cultures in the Harris Center. The event provides an opportunity for international students to celebrate their homes and share their culture with the Grinnell community.

This year, the event was hosted by Elvira Nurmukhamedova ‘19 and Takshil Sachdev ‘19, who were selected to host the show by the ISO cabinet. Nurmukhamedova, who has participated in Cultural Evening in some capacity every year during her time at the College, said she valued the show for the opportunity it gives international students to celebrate their culture and show off their talents. “It’s kind of nice to show a piece of home to other people here on campus, so it’s great for the audiences as well to increase their awareness about other countries or cultures that are present here,” she said.

Sachdev also said that ISO and the Cultural Evening play an important role for students: “I think it’s one of those things that makes international students feel very comfortable, very happy, and very proud. … It’s an evening of international students getting to own the space and do their thing.”

Behind the scenes, ISO Cultural Evening acts as a transitional period for the ISO cabinet. The 2019-20 cabinet, consisting of eight students elected by ISO in February 2019, worked together with the incumbent cabinet to coordinate the event. Planning the evening is an opportunity for new cabinet members to learn more about the ins and outs of their position from their predecessors. Vice president-elect Calvin Tang ‘20 said planning the event was “really good for team-building as well … between the new cabinet, it’s good to kind of see how everyone can work together.”

The two cabinets instituted a few changes to this year’s Cultural Evening. In preparation for the event, the cabinets had more rehearsals than in previous years, allowing the opportunity for more lighting and sound checks and for performers to rehearse their numbers on the Harris stage. Additionally, the cabinet renamed the portion of the show previously called the “fashion show” to the “international apparel show” after some students expressed discomfort with the original title, specifically with the implication that international students’ traditional apparel was simply “fashion,” potentially undermining the important cultural significance of the apparel being showcased. The cabinet also produced a short video, played at the beginning of Cultural Evening, that warned audience members against cultural appropriation and reminded them that Cultural Evening is more than just a performance to the students involved, it is an expression of identity and a space for respectful inter-cultural celebration.

President-elect Ananya Munish ‘20 expressed that these changes indicated a change in ISO and at the College in general over the past few years. “When I first got here, nobody was talking about things like maybe the fashion show is slightly tokenizing, or don’t call these outfits costumes. … My first year it didn’t matter, and nobody even brought it up. … In just two years that whole idea has changed,” Munish said.

After Saturday’s Cultural Evening, the new cabinet members will organize one more study break event before the end of the semester, which will be the first event organized completely by the new cabinet. Munish, who previously served on the 2017-18 ISO cabinet as a Social Coordinator, anticipates her experience with ISO will give the cabinet “an edge” for the upcoming year, as she feels “primed for everything that’s coming ahead.”

ISO Cultural Evening showcases student cultures from around the globe; Vietnamese students performed a traditional dance.
Photo by Sarina Lincoln

One of Munish’s goals for the upcoming year is to establish an international alumni network with the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS). “Systematically, it’s becoming more and more difficult for international students to network and stay in the country. … It’s come to the point where people’s goals are to find what keeps them in the country versus to do what they love,” she said. Munish, who also works with the CLS, hopes to create a resource for international students to share their work experiences with their peers looking for jobs.

Treasurer-elect Shuhan Yi ‘22 also expressed excitement for his position — Yi said he looked forward to cultivating his “ability to … be a leader and be considerate of different communities and how to balance their budget needs.”

The ISO cabinet also hopes to continue to use ISO’s resources and platform to support multicultural organizations on campus and to highlight international cultures that may not have been highlighted in the past. Specifically, the cabinet intends to hold an event next year for international students who are one of the few students at Grinnell from their home countries.

To stay up to date with ISO’s events, like them on Facebook at

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