Across language barriers and country lines, there’s one thing that connects most cultures: the meaning of a smile.
The first ever Smile event was held at the International House Apartments on Thursday, giving Colorado State University language clubs a chance to come together to share food, folklore and fun throughout the night.
“It was really hard to find a name that expressed what I was envisioning, something that connects everyone,” said Jess Egnatovich, a graduate teaching assistant in the Spanish department at CSU who organized the event. “Every country, if you smile, that means the same thing. That’s something we all have in common. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true.”
Many of the clubs had food representing the cultures they were representing. The Japanese Club brought mochi balls, the Italian Club had small portions of pasta and the French Club let visitors make crepes.
“It really is an opportunity to explore different cultures, especially in a university setting,” said Bryce Davis, former president and current treasurer of the CSU German Club. “You could have a roommate who’s from another country, but I think this is a way to actually come out and actually socialize and experience these different cultures.”
Games were played throughout the night. In one game, attendees were invited to go around the room and match the silhouettes of countries to the languages spoken there. Later in the evening, regional variants of children’s games like tag, duck-duck-goose and patty-cake were played.
“It’s a showcase of all of the languages,” Egnatovich said. “Not only what they uniquely have, but what they have in common.”
“Instead of a melting pot, where all of the cultures are erased and become one culture, I feel like CSU is kind of like a salad bowl where there are so many different cultures present.” -Liliya Smith, Chinese Language Club Vice President.
One example of these similarities came in culinary form. The Spanish and Russian clubs shared the same table and the same confectionary known by two names — Mexican wedding cakes and Russian tea cakes, which are one and the same.
According to Egnatovich, the gaps between the different languages in CSU’s department of languages, literatures and cultures were wide enough that she didn’t know some of her colleagues.
“Before this event, I didn’t know the names of people in American Sign Language or Korean,” Egnatovich said. “I thought it’d be nice to bridge the gap within the department.”
These gaps were also bridged for students trying to find out what cultures and languages were represented at CSU.
“I think it’s necessary because it actually shows a lot of different cultures that are involved in CSU,” Davis said. “You can actually get a good idea of what is here if you didn’t know.”
Liliya Smith, vice president of CSU’s Chinese Language Club, was proud of the diverse culture that Smile promoted.
“I like to use the (term) ‘salad dressing,’” Smith said. “Instead of a melting pot, where all of the cultures are erased and become one culture, I feel like CSU is kind of like a salad bowl where there are so many different cultures present.”
In a society where intolerance and divisiveness have become the norm, an event where groups with completely different cultures can come together to bond over both similarities and differences represents something special.
“Nobody really tries to understand the perspective of other people,” Egnatovich said. “And as we globalize more, understanding becomes more necessary. We’re interacting with people from other cultures, other languages, other countries, and it’s important to understand where other people are coming from.”
Graham Shapley can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham.