MARSHALL - An anonymous person wrote that "Diversity is the one thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day." On Tuesday, Marshall Middle School students didn't have to travel very far to get an international experience.
Approximately 600 middle school students shared in a cultural exchange at the second annual Market Place, an all-day event on campus, primarily coordinated by members of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"We've been planning this since summer because we did it last year," said Ren Wegner, SIFE co-organizer of the event. "We liked helping so much and we had so many ideas to improve it, so we took it on."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Southwest Minnesota State University student Jesus Rodriguez, left, transformed the face of seventh-grader Osman Hassan into a tiger’s face using paint at the Israel booth at the Market Place, a celebration in cultural diversity, Tuesday at Marshall Middle School.
SIFE made some changes from last year when MMS teachers Sandy Carpenter and Jennifer Ufkin were at the helm.
"Last year, we used integration monies and invited Tracy eighth-graders," Carpenter said. "This year, the difference is that it's for fifth through eighth grade, so all MMS students. Last year, I was in charge of the whole event and SIFE assisted me. This year, SIFE has been in charge and I have assisted them."
A grant from Youth As Resources (YAR) helped to fund the cultural exchange this year.
"It's well above our expectations," SIFE co-organizer Justin Pitois said. "We had the first edition last year, with about 250 kids. This year, we have 600. We put a lot of time and effort into planning everything. Our goal was to bring it to the next level."
Solidifying volunteers was the biggest challenge, said organizers, who sought assistance from a variety of other sources this year, including SMSU culinology and art students.
"The SMSU art club gave us four to five students to help us out and the culinology club cooked everything," Pitois said. "It's incredible."
Joe Evans, SMSU art student, created a popular photo wall where students could "go on vacation," and get their photo taken at various countries.
"I've been having a blast," Evans said. "I love the way SIFE kids work. It's very organized."
In addition to SIFE students who helped in between their classes, 10 students from YAR, seven foreign exchange students from Marshall High School and 12 students from Carpenter's class helped out. Though SIFE doesn't profit monetarily from the project, it's worth the effort, Pitois said.
"Our goal is really to show diversity to kids in Marshall," he said. "I'm from France. I like to bring them a new way to see things. But it's really for them that we're doing it."
Students Rachel Miller and Izabella Dieken liked the food the best, but also enjoyed meeting new people.
"It's been fun," Dieken said.
"The salad was good and the meatballs were pretty good, too," Miller said.
Eighth-grader Jordyn Polfliet said he enjoyed the reggae music, while Sam Prorok liked both the food and the games.
"It's a fun way of learning," Prorok said.
Eighth-grader Kenzie Gillow helped work at the concession stand, where Dutch applesauce, hummus and pita chips, jerk chicken, momos, coconut sticky rice with mangoes, caesar salad, meatballs and crepes with strawberries and whipped cream were available.
"It's actually pretty good," Gillow said about the hummus.
Sixteen different countries were represented at the Market Place this year, including the United States, Bolivia, the Netherlands, Korea, Jamaica, Pakistan, Germany, France, India, Thailand and Nepal.
"We have three or four more countries than last year," Wegner said. "I'm really happy. Just going around and seeing all the kids smiling is what it's all about, having them experience different cultures and diversity."
Fifth-grader Madeline Penske visited Pannaporn Praittimongkol, a MHS foreign exchange student, at the Thailand booth.
"I was doing trivia," Penske said. "I did good. I got a bracelet. It's cool."
SMSU student Maira Ressini explained a lot about her country of Bolivia.
"I want to share my culture," Ressini said. "It's fun to let people get to know about it. The kids were surprised that we had deserts and hotels made of salt."
Bolivia also has 40 percent of the animals in the world.
"We have biological diversity," said Ressini, who also explained to students about their annual carnival in February, where people dance in the streets.
SMSU graduate Rick Kortsmit and his fiance Jasmine Ghorbani represented the Netherlands booth.
"The kids have mainly been interested in the food," Kortsmit said. "They love it. One kid came back six times. I think he spent all his tickets here."
In addition to seeing a variety of Delft Blue, which are blue and white trinkets like teapots, piggy banks or wooden shoe replicas, students could buy boterham met pindakaas en hagelslag.
"It's basically a sandwich with peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles," Ghorbani said.
When Ghorbani first visited the Netherlands, she was struck by the massive amounts of tulips growing in fields.
"They grow them in every color except for blue and green," she said.
Kortsmit, who said the tulips fields resembled U.S. cornfields, pointed out that the Netherlands are the third-largest agricultural exporter.
"It's amazing for how small of a country it is," he said. "Minnesota is 4.5 times bigger than Holland, and with 16.7 million people, Holland has three times as many people living there."
South Korean exchange student Bom Yoon gave out bookmarks and postcards.
"I write down their Korean name or gave them a tattoo," she said. "It's awesome that people have an interest in other people's cultures."
SMSU student Nimi Varkey was one of two students from India who designed henna tattoos on the students' hands. SIFE member Eskor Eyo said he enjoyed all the booths.
"It's a great way to learn about the international countries, taste some food they don't get to eat every day and really be exposed to stuff that is outside of their four walls, their comfort zones," Eyo said.
SMSU students Jesus Rodriguez and Anna Berman were in charge of Israel, one of the new booths.
"I've been writing people's names in Hebrew," Berman said.
"I'm painting a tiger's face," Rodriguez said.
Jordy and Josh Escamilla were happy to help man the Mexico booth, complete with cheetos, puppets and sombreros.
At the end of the day, Carpenter said she was glad that all of the middle school students were able to celebrate this year.
"I think they understand diversity, that it's a whole world out there," Carpenter said. "And, they didn't have to leave their school to find it. They were able to take a field trip right in their own school."