The World Comes to Cookeville

April 9, 2010

By Pat Ryan

A wise man once told me that it’s much easier to sell people something “they think they want” than something “you think they need.” That dictum is especially apropos to the task of global affairs awareness – teaching people about the world.

We are a nation awash in information resources that offer an endless stream of raw data, context and analyses of the world around us but most Americans are content to leave understanding foreign affairs, our interests abroad and international things to someone else.

For example, three years after the invasion of Iraq – and the investment of our blood and treasure in that episode – Americans were largely ignorant of the situation there with about 70% of us unable to find Iraq on a map according to a National Geographic Society poll.

One of the questions I ask groups that have invited me to speak is why they thought we were attacked on 9/11, the event that conventional wisdom suggests “changed the world.” The responses are usually little more than shrugs and silence, or some combination of talking points echoed from a political pundit, that are well wide of the mark. The most intriguing answer so far was a counter question. “Do you mean why was it a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday?”

This week a Tech student mentioned an exchange he had with a man in the community about his background. When he said he was a Muslim – one of only 1.3 billion Muslims on planet Earth – the outlandish response was “Oh, so you’re a terrorist?”

So it is extremely heartening to see a spectacular global awareness event that unfolds every spring at Tennessee Tech University, the Window on the World Symposium and Festival, coming to town. Appropriately known as “WOW” it will unfold Friday and Saturday at TTU and, as it has done since 2001, it will import a tremendous understanding and appreciation for the world beyond our borders.

Tech is setting a menu with something for everyone, of every age, for all the senses. As Catherine Cella Neapolitan, who helps promote the event, recently described it, “WOW celebrates global harmony and the cultural diversity we enjoy in our community.”

On Friday morning WOW kicks off with an international affairs symposium, something for the brain – this year focusing on development issues, how to help lift people from poverty, illiteracy, poor health and the other ills that plague much of the Third World. A senior American diplomat, Jan Hartman, and a community organizer, Lawrence Oduro, from a far off corner of Ghana, will come to Cookeville to share their perspectives on how to make the world a better place, in a panel discussion starting at 10 a.m.

The grand Festival opens on Saturday morning at TTU’s Roaden University Center, festooned with the colorful flags of the world. Inside there will be a seemingly endless collection of feasts, literally and figuratively, for every taste. Dozens of musical and dance performances at several venues in and around the RUC as well as scores of booths featuring cultural displays – artwork, demonstrations, merchandise, information – many hosted by international students and organizations celebrating their native and ancestral roots.

The Festival was portrayed by Neapolitan as “a world of windows and a cultural celebration through each.” A highpoint of the day is the chance to sample the international cuisines assembled at WOW, as she described it, “Close your eyes, inhale, and you’ll know a window is open to good food—festival tastes from kitchens around the world.”

The Window on the World Symposium and Festival is a celebration of our world and a tribute to our increasingly diverse community. If you have been to any of the previous WOWs no further description of the sights and sounds and tastes is necessary. If you haven’t yet been no further description will be adequate to tell you about the fun you will have at this year’s event.

WOW succeeds in bringing a big dose of global awareness to us because it’s fun. It brings something people “think they want” – music, dancing, food, shopping, just plain fun – and indeed they do if past WOWs are an indication. For this we can be thankful to the Tech community, the support of President Bob Bell for projects like WOW, and especially for the leadership of Katie Kumar whose personal commitment to the event has seen it grow into the incredible community resource that we enjoy every spring. We must also thank the hundreds of volunteers – Tech students, faculty and others – who will make a piece of the world appear on Dixie Avenue next week.

The world is coming to town. Will you be there to say hello?

Pat Ryan writes about international affairs from Cookeville, Tennessee. He can be contacted through Window on the World info is online at < >

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