The Return of the International Festival 2018

Official Poster of the 26th Annual International Festival

UM International Fest Returns April 8th, Free for UM Students!


Missoula – Everyone will be a world traveler when the 26th Annual UM International Festival returns to the University of Montana University Center on Sunday, April 8th from 11am - 4pm. 

This is the biggest international celebration Montana has to offer, and the second largest festival at UM. If previous enrollment figures are any indicator, this year’s festival should see attendance records in the thousands.

Mona Mondava, the Director of the International Festival, said the festival has long been a tradition in Missoula, and was sorely missed when it took a hiatus last year. This year the festival got the green light from UM President Seth Bodnar, who wants more campus and community-wide involvement.

“The official reason the festival was missed last year was because a food festival takes five months to produce,” explains Mondava. “We have to conform to Missoula City-County health rules, and build teams willing to cook. And it is expensive to produce. So financial and time restraints are the reasons the festival didn’t happen last year. This year we only had six weeks to produce the festival.”

The logistics of organizing the festival in such a short window of time has left the festival production team rallying to bring together talent, participants, and volunteers which hopefully will coalesce on festival day.

This year the global extravaganza returns with new ideas, as well as familiar favorites.

“We are re-inventing the International Festival with more campus-wide commitment,” Mondava said, “It’s the same festival with new food, new ideas.”

The festival is trying a new model with cheaper ticket prices and free admittance for UM students with a Griz Card.

Something else that’s new to this year’s festival will be an assortment of ethnic food trucks from around Missoula. This is a change from the international student-operated food booths of past festivals, but this will be an exciting gastronomic alternative. Every world traveler knows the key to experiencing culture and diversity is often through culinary experiences.

“This frees up international students to become more involved in the festival, since they don't deal with food,” said Mondava. “Hopefully this means more student booths, more student shows.”

Another new idea this year is a vibrant Atrium International Fiesta. This will be an open space with a carnival atmosphere filled with booths, live entertainment, and International Culture Show performers doing longer sets.

As in previous festivals there will also be familiar favorites such as the International Culture Show, Children’s World, and Global Pavilion.

Recruiting UM students, faculty, and community members to volunteer in such a short time has been challenging for the festival production committee.

“This year, we are working on a tighter deadline than in previous years,” said Sonja Grimmsmann, the Culture Show Coordinator.

 “Some groups who participated in previous years have already made prior commitments that conflict with our festival. However, the long history of the festival has allowed it to develop longstanding relationships, allowing community and campus groups to respond within our shortened time frame. They recognize the festival and understand what we are asking of them,” said Grimmsmann.

The International Festival is Missoula's largest celebration of diversity, according to Grimmsmann. “I'm proud to provide my part in demonstrating the international cultural influences on the community I live in. I believe any opportunity to demonstrate that there are different ways of going about our lives is worth being a part of, in the hope of developing respect and acceptance.”

Raphaella Barroscampbell, Coordinator for Children’s World, said she first attended the International Festival in 2016. “Having recently moved to Missoula from Brazil, it was a wonderful experience to be able to reconnect with my roots through the culture show and the food,” she said.

“Recruiting is always challenging, but also rewarding,” said Barroscampbell. “It feels really good to see the list of volunteers grow, and many who are not able to participate this year have expressed interest in joining us next year. Personally speaking, coordinating a section of the festival was eye-opening. Having been a spectator, I had no idea the amount of work and resources that go into the festival. These challenges and all the work have made me appreciate the festival even more.”

The recruitment work invested by Grimmsmann and Barroscampbell is paying dividends. Their list of university and community participants has grown exponentially in a short time span.

One reliable group who can always be relied on for volunteer help is the UM international student body.

Sobirjon Nazriev, President of International Student Association at UM, said his student group has been busy brainstorming and prepping for the festival.

"Each academic year, ISA participates in the International Festival. We do weekly meetings in order to plan events and discuss what we can do to make the festival interesting and welcoming,” said Nazriev.

“ISA officers come up with brilliant ideas which will be used during the festival,” he said. “We come up with a list of students and their ideas. We manage them, and we also do the ticketing. The last festival, we had so many students associations that cooked food. However, we won’t have the food part this year. Therefore, this year we will mostly focus on Children’s world, Cultural show, and booths.”

Nazriev said one of his festival roles has been to reach out to underrepresented foreign students who are willing to participate in the festival.

The International Festival debuted 28 years ago and was the inspiration of Effie Koehn, recently retired long-time Director of the Global Engagement Office and of International Students and Scholar Services at UM.

Koen worked tirelessly to gain the necessary institutional support for the festival and, once ready to launch, she asked Mondava, the Global Engagement Office Program Coordinator, to help implement the vision and become Director of the International Festival. 

“Effie and I worked to build the team and broad-based support that would grow the festival, working closely with student leadership from the International Student Association, said Mondava.

“The festival was launched and grew by leaps and bounds each year, quickly garnering  tremendous support across campus and from the Missoula community, as well as financial and institutional support from UM Administration, especially from former UM President George Dennison."   

But the history of UM international celebrations goes back further, according to Mondava. Prior to the International Festival, there was a 15 year long tradition of an International Banquet that featured an international culture show and banquet, and there was a fair of ethnic display and information booths in the UC atrium on a separate day. The problem with the banquet was that it could only accommodate a limited audience and had a steeper admission price. The vision for the new International Festival was to combine these elements plus some new ones, and create an opportunity for more people to be able to participate or come. 

Mondava said from the very onset, the mission was to make the International Festival a town-gown collaboration, showcasing both the talent and international connections in the community as well as on campus.

Mondava said, “After this year, we hope to bring the International Festival back in the future.”

This global and multicultural extravaganza runs from 11a.m. to 4 p.m . General admission is $2 per person, $5 for a family, and free for UM students with a Griz Card.

The International Festival is a non-profit event, sponsored by the University of Montana and produced by UM’s Global Engagement Office and UM’s International Student Association, with major sponsors such as UM Administration, The University Center, UM Dining, UM Global Leadership Initiative, Associated Students of UM (ASUM), and the Montana Children’s Film Festival.