Since before I started at St John’s, the International Festival has been spoken about in rapturous terms: “everyone loves it”, “so much fun”, “the event of the year”. Even our healthily critical Grade 12 students were very quick to tell me how much they enjoyed and embraced it, even though I should expect a day of reinforcing national stereotypes! So by the time the new school year began, I had built the event up in my mind and couldn’t help hoping that the reality would not disappoint. I am very pleased to report that the International Festival, enjoyed by all on Friday, lived up to the hype and most certainly did not disappoint!
The concept is a simple one of two parts, making brilliant use of our two sports arenas, very handily located adjacent to each other and connected by the Sports Foyer. Part 1 is the Parade; think Olympic Games opening ceremony combined with a sprinkling of Eurovision. National costumes, national colours, national music, quite a bit of dancing and lots of flag waving. Part 2 is ‘the Booths’; think Food Festival combined with elements of international travel promotion and children’s party; beautifully decorated stands with country-specific activities and giveaways for the children, as well as delicious food and drink.
Yes, a simple concept, but most definitely not an easy event to organise. The mobilisation of so many parent volunteers, students and St John’s staff has been incredible – the amount of organisation, creativity and sheer work that has gone into the International Festival has been humbling. A huge thank you to everyone who has cooked, shopped, organised, served, sewn, carried, decorated, choreographed, rehearsed and entertained!
And of course, the beauty of the International Festival is that it isn’t simply about the event itself; yes, it was a celebration of all the very many countries and cultures that our students and families hail from, but more importantly, it was a coming together. As a Brit myself, it was great to don my tartan skirt and channel my scottish roots; I noticed before when I lived in Germany the curious effect of feeling a stronger sense of national identity when you live overseas. Interestingly though, you also feel a stronger sense of closeness and homogenity with other nationalities the longer you spend in another country – that realisation and understanding that we are all the same human beings after all, despite great differences of experience, heritage and culture. Certainly, in the midst of Friday’s festivities, there was a real sense of pride in the wonderfully diverse and global community that we have at St John’s. And in the evening, when the final nation, Belgium, took to the stage, there was a real feeling of belonging and pride in our host country where so many nationalities come together as one.