International Fair Takes Students on a Virtual Trip Around the World

Lithuanian tree cake, French crepes and spicy Korean noodles were among the big hits at The Gunnery’s annual International Fair, which attracted more than 100 students and faculty to Virginia Hamilton Solley Hall on January 16. The event featured international cuisine, costumes, music and displays reflecting the school’s culturally diverse community. Gunnery students currently hail from 22 countries, and the fair provided many of them with an opportunity to highlight what makes them and their countries’ cultures unique.
“This year you could have anything from bubble tea from China to borscht from Russia. The students really put themselves out there,” said Karoline Theobald, International Student Coordinator and a member of the English Department faculty. Theobald serves as an advisor to several international students and helped to organize the fair with faculty member Lili Dyer, who teaches French and English as a Second Language (ESL).

Kasparas Kersanskas, a junior from Vilnius, Lithuania, greeted fellow students attired in traditional Lithuanian folk dress, which included a patterned vest and woven sash, and offered treats including a towering Lithuanian tree cake, which would be served at a wedding.

At the table next to him, several Canadian students offered samples of Timbits from the Canadian chain Tim Hortons, which they described as “a step up from” the Dunkin’ Donuts munchkin. Across the room, junior Ilya Vasko, who is from Moscow and was wearing a fur hat with ear flaps, offered visitors extensive information about Russia. He even had a set of Russian nesting dolls, or matryoshka, at his table. He was joined by freshman Ksenia Korobov of Woodbury and her mother, Alla Korobova, who served bowls of hot borscht made with beets and cabbage. When asked what she wanted other students to know about her country, Korobov said: “Russia’s really complex. It’s not just about politics. We have really good food, too.”

Continuing on, students could literally take a culinary trip around the world with stops in Vietnam for sweet durian pastry and chung cake; Lebanon for triangular-shaped meat pies and assorted candies, and El Salvador for pupusa, thick corn tortillas filled with cheese. “I love them. They’re my favorite,” said sophomore Sophia Novoa, who made the traditional Salvadorian dish at home on break, froze them and brought them to the dining hall where they were reheated and served warm.

Those craving something sweet had to look no further than the German specialties, including cake, cookies, chocolate and Haribo gummy bears, offered by freshman Nathan Quelle and sophomore Nikolaus Franz, who are both from Dusseldorf, and Elena Maehrle of Munich, who wore a traditional dirndl. Nearby, seniors Sayed Hashem Alaali and Noor Alsairafi, who are both from Bahrain, were attired in traditional dress and served sweet, bite-size pastries similar to baklava and assorted candies made with dates and chocolate. Alaali wore a long, white garment called a thobe and Asairafi wore a long, colorful gown and gold headdress. Senior Alina Kim of Korea was also wearing her country’s traditional dress - a layered pink gown that she said would typically be worn for a tea ceremony, or, in all white, as a Korean wedding dress. “It takes a long time to put on,” she said. “We don’t usually wear this.”  

The Korean spicy noodles Kim had prepared disappeared quickly, as did the French crepes and madeleines made by sophomore Juliette Gaggini of Washington, who was joined at her table by two French women, her mother, Nathalie, and freshman Erik Gustafson’s mom, Vivi.

Latecomers missed their chance to try the Chinese bubble tea prepared by senior Emma Wang, who is from Wuhan, China, and served by juniors Joey Lin of Guangzhou, China, and Jasmine Tian, whose family is from Suzhou. Asked why they chose to serve the tea at the fair, Lin and Tian said it appeals to people of all ages in China. “It’s super popular,” they said.

In addition to food, students prepared posters and PowerPoint presentations and shared maps, books and other items to showcase the geography and culture of their home countries while their personal selections of international pop music played in the background. To encourage students and faculty to attend the fair, sophomore Aris Wang of China produced a seven-minute promotional video that was shown at an all-school meeting January 11. It featured Gunnery students dancing, lip syncing and singing in Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Finnish, Somali, Russian, Korean, Arabic and English.

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.