Annual festival to highlight cultural differences

Alex Sandefur

More than 200 vendors and performers representing dozens of countries from around the world will gather at the Bowling Green International Festival Saturday in Circus Square Park from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The festival is an entertaining way to educate the community about the different nationalities and ethnic groups that can be found here in Bowling Green. The festival started in 1989, and attendance has grown to about 15,000 people per year. The audience is becoming more diverse as well, said the festival’s executive director Kim Mason.

“The quickest way to acceptance is to meet new people and to not be isolated,” Mason said. “The festival provides a forum to do that.”

Mason has been the executive director of the festival since 2001 and is in charge of booking the vendors and performers.

Mason noted that WKU has a significant presence at the festival. Different departments from all over campus, such as the Confucius Institute and Study Abroad and Global Learning, set up booths.

In addition to different departments setting up booths, many international students set up stands or performed at the event to showcase their home culture. Shannon Miller, programming assistant for the International Student Office, is a connection between the students and the festival organizers. 

Miller said ISO covers the cost of the students’ booths. This money comes out of the office’s yearly programming budget.

“We just want the [international] students to get involved while they are here,” Miller said.

The festival has changed dramatically since its beginning. More countries and ethnic groups are represented now than ever before, according to the Bowling Green International Festival’s website.

As a past attendee of the festival, Miller notes another change the festival made.

“When I first started going to the festival, it was in Fountain Square Park. Circus Square Park didn’t exist yet. And there definitely weren’t as many vendors there,” Miller said.

Mason attributed the move to Circus Square Park to logistical issues but says the city has been accommodating, and the festival thrives in its new home. 

Dr. Angela Jones, associate professor of English at WKU, is president of the board of directors that helps make decisions about the festival all year long. Jones says the festival is an event unique to Bowling Green.

“This festival helps both the native population and the refugee population we have here in Bowling Green come together,” Jones said. “Some cultures might not get along out in the world, but they do at the festival.” 

On the day of the festival, Jones will be working the information booth where she checks in vendors, answers questions and talks to the media. 

Jones believes attending the festival is a great “edutainment” opportunity for WKU students — a word she used to describe the festival’s way of making learning about other cultures an entertaining experience.

“I get chills when I talk about the festival,” Jones said. “I just love it so much.” 

Miller agrees that WKU students should make a point to come check out the festival. 

“It’s a great opportunity to experience cultures from around the world you just don’t get to see everyday.”