Coffee Hour offers chance to learn about other cultures

People line up to try food at the Coffee Hour presentation in the International Student Center on April 22, 2016. This Coffee Hour presented information about the Czech Republic. (Allison Evans | The Collegian)

Around five times a semester, K-State students, faculty and community members get together to learn about other cultures through coffee, food and conversation at the K-State International Student Center’s Coffee Hour.

“Most of the people are here because they’re curious, and coffee hour definitely feeds your curiosity,” Sai Pradeep, Coffee Hour coordinator and graduate student in industrial engineering, said. “It’s a new country. You don’t know much about it, so there will definitely be things you love about a country or think that is really interesting.”

Pradeep said Coffee Hour is an opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students from other countries to share their culture with others. Topics discussed can include geography, politics, history, food and more.

International students are contacted via email asking if they want to present, and then they send in applications, Pradeep said. Countries are chosen based on how recently they have been presented in Coffee Hour, with the intention of choosing countries that have not been showcased in the past five years.

Countries with higher populations at K-State, such as China, India and Saudi Arabia, are not included because there are other events for those cultures around campus throughout the year, and the goal of the Coffee Hour series is to bring attention lesser-known countries, Pradeep said.

A presentation is given by a student, or students, that lasts between 30-40 minutes, Pradeep said. After that, there is a Q&A session followed by authentic food from the country, which is prepared by the student presenters.

“My favorite part of the Coffee Hour is tasting the food that’s authentic to that country,” Pradeep said. “It’s usually two to three dishes. And it’s not a lot, it’s just a taste, but I believe there’s no better way to share a culture than to share its food.”

Meenu Mohankumar, graduate student in statistics, presented over Sri Lanka in February with two other students, she said. Mohankumar said she enjoyed the opportunity to share her culture with others while she is studying at K-State.

“I’m really glad that I could present my country and tell something about my country to people here,” Mohankumar said. “It’s good to let the people know, and it’s totally different from here, the cultures, the clothes, everything. I really wanted to represent my country.”

Sonia Moisa, graduate student and postdoctoral research assistant in animal sciences industry, presented over Argentina in March and said the series is a good way for international students to promote their countries and encourage others to consider visiting.

“You’re learning about new cultures, and sometimes they may not have any idea where the country is from,” Moisa said. “It’s a general culture for these people, a general education of the country, and maybe you’re given the idea, ‘Hey, I want to visit.'”

Pradeep said he has records of the series dating back to 1999 but is unsure of when it actually began.

Attendance has spiked this semester. In 2015, the average number of attendees was 110, and before that in 2013 it was between 70-80, Pradeep said. For this spring series, they have seen averages of 160. The rise in numbers is possibly due to an increase in word of mouth, as well as the creation of a Coffee Hour Facebook group, Pradeep said.

“This semester something changed,” Pradeep said. “I don’t know if people became more curious. At one point, we had 175 and people kept coming, and we couldn’t let anymore in, so we had to say no to people who came.”

The series wrapped up for the semester on Friday with a presentation over the Czech Republic. Loryn Wiebe, junior in psychology and secondary education, said she enjoyed the presentation and others in the series because they offer an education that might not be found elsewhere.

“I love learning about the different cultures,” Wiebe said. “It’s very insightful and things you don’t normally learn if you just read a book about them. It’s actually from the people who are native there.”

Pradeep said he is sad to see the series end for the semester but is looking forward to more Coffee Hour events in the fall.

“The Coffee Hour feeds energy to me,” Pradeep said. “I look forward to the next Coffee Hour. It’s like students usually look forward to the weekend and I look to the next Coffee Hour. I love this job so much. I’ve had so much personal growth talking to all these people from all these different countries. I’ve had so much perspective increase in myself.”