GTIA Night Market promotos cross-cultural unity

A group of students perform a carefully choreographed routine. GTIA’s annual Night Market provides students with an intercultural gathering to learn about and experience different ways of life. / Photo by Ethan Chen Student Publications

Traditional dances, vibrant displays and loud music from around the world transformed Tech Green into a hub of cultural activity. On Thursday, Nov. 2, the International Ambassadors at Georgia Tech (GTIA) — a student organization that celebrates Tech’s diversity — orchestrated the sixth edition of the GTIA Night Market, bringing together 14 associations all representing different student groups.

The free-for-all event featured live dance performances and interest booths for different student organizations. GTIA volunteers handed each attendee a “passport,” a flier with stamp placeholders for each of the 14 associations tabling at the event.

Students who collected five or more stamps on their passports — by spending time and engaging in activities at the different booths — could get the flier exchanged for a meal from one of the two food stalls catering to the event. This year’s event had Jamaican and Chinese cuisines, with options for vegetarians. There was also a photo booth for interested participants.

A makeshift stage set up near the entrance of the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons (CULC) hosted a sequence of seven dance performances. The first of these was a dragon dance by the Chinese Student Association (CSA), in which a troupe of dancers showcased their coordination and grace all while creating visually appealing formations with the dragon prop’s body. 

Afterwards, an eight-minute solo dance was performed by Shriya Nayak, second-year ENVS, in the Bharatanatyam dance form from south India. There were also lively displays by the Japan Student Association, Tekstyles, Seoulstice, GT Dragonflyers and the Vietnamese Student Association at Tech.

“We’ve been practicing from the start of the school year, but our performance for this event in specific took us about two weeks,” said Ziwei Tang, first-year CS and the coordinator of the dragon’s movements in the CSA’s dance performance.

Nayak, who has been learning the Bharatanatyam dance form for the past seven years, explained the personal and cultural significance of her performance. 

“This is part of the margam, the repertoire which every Bharatanatyam dancer should have. I’ve been learning this piece for three years, so I just polished it for this performance,” Nayak said.

Tang spoke of the opportunity to perform and witness other performances and its impact. 

“Having an audience feels really great. I love being around these amazing performances from around the world. It’s really cool to share our culture with everyone,” Tang said. 

Nayak echoed Tang’s sentiment, commenting on what the event meant to her.

“This is my first time [performing to a large crowd at Tech], even though Aarohi, the club that I’m part of, performs regularly at events like these. It’s important that we get to show classical arts from India, that this type of art exists and the significance of it,” Nayak said.

Across from the stage, a row of tables staffed by enthusiastic association members lined the full length of Tech Green. 

National flag streamers and string lights decorated the perimeter of the venue. Members gave those gathered a brief run-down of their association’s activities, often also involving participants in a game with prizes at stake. 

The Malaysian Student Association, for instance, had put together a pop quiz on Kahoot, covering topics such as swear words in Bahasa and festivals celebrated in Malaysia. Some tables had stickers and culturally significant mementos for participants to keep if they impressed the association with their knowledge.

Jeslyn Ero, first-year EE and a participant in the festivities, spoke about the Night Market experience as an out of state student. 

“I like the introduction of many different countries and cultures. Being from a small town in New Jersey, I didn’t get to see as many cultures as I would have liked. So far it’s good exposure, and hopefully we can see more tables staffed at future events like these,” Ero said.

The scale of the event, with thousands of students in attendance, required meticulous planning on part of the organizers, with the development beginningseveral months in advance.

“Preliminary planning for the Night Market started in the summer. Since fall semester started, we’ve worked on booking the space, contacting organizations, getting food vendors and arranging for funds,” said Abdulrahman AlSaeed, second-year ARCH and GTIA Executive VP.

The choice of Tech Green as a location was well planned too. “The event being in Tech Green is like marketing in itself. Everyone walking by stops to see what’s happening and to engage in the event. A lot of students enjoy it, so we keep organizing it here every year,” AlSaeed said. 

Ero acknowledged that she may have missed out had the event not been organized in the popular thoroughfare. 

To get more details on organizing an event of this scale, The Technique spoke to Thomas Chin, second-year CS and organizer of the GTIA Night Market. 

“There’s a long process of getting the vendors approved. You have to fill out an external provider form and get approvals from Tech and Tech Catering. You need to send in the vendor’s business license, invoice and food permits — it could take four or five weeks to get the vendors approved,” Chin said.

Chin also spoke about the funding and outreach needed for the Night Market.

“Then there’s the funding — we needed to contact SOFO (Student Organization Finance Office), BuzzFunds and the Office of International Education. For an event of this scale, it could take $10,000 to $12,000 in funding — most of it for the food and some of it for renting tents, tables and decorations. After that, we look for all the cultural organizations and performance clubs and invite them to table or perform at our event. We had a crew of 10 to 15 GTIA members at the event, with a smaller core of six involved in planning,” Chin said. 

Hiroki Mii, third-year EE and GTIA member, spoke of the GTIA’s role in improving cross-cultural understanding at Tech. 

“We reach out to prospective and current international students, network with them and provide them with advice to help them feel at home on campus. We also have a number of internal events aside from events like the Night Market,” Mii said.

Alsaeed spoke about the GTIA’s motivation to organize events like the Night Market.

“Our main motto is ‘Bringing the World to Georgia Tech, and Georgia Tech to the World’, and that’s something we try to achieve by ensuring you get to meet people from various backgrounds — within the club or at events like these,” Alsaeed said.

While the GTIA Night Market was a cultural explosion in itself, student associations also used it as a gateway to other cultural events at Tech. The ASA advertised the inaugural Afro Carib Festival (Nov. 4 at Harrison Square), while the CSA brought up the Tour of Asia (Nov. 3 at Exhibition Hall) and Starry Night (Nov. 7 at Tech Green). 

Attendees of all backgroundsleft the event having satiated their appetite — for scrumptious food, new information and wholesome conversations with the international student community at Tech. Those looking for more information can follow their Instagram @gtiambassadors.