BEMIDJI, Minn.-- The 40th celebration of International Day at the Concordia Language Villages was as lively as ever on Friday, as participants paraded around, honoring their heritages and cultures with pride on their sleeves.
"It's really the most exciting part of the summer to be able to see other villages, and villagers then have owned their culture and they get to share it with others," said Jennifer Speir, group director at CLV. "This day allows them to share with other villagers what they've learned. It takes form as a street festival. It has its own culture. It's a real international mix."
International Day provides an opportunity for villagers and the public alike to learn about the language and cultural immersion programs offered at Concordia Language Villages-and it also allows all the different villages to come together and unite in celebration.
"It's powerful," Speir said. "It's out of your day-to-day realm, so you're stepping out of your shoes, you're pushing your comfort zone. Then realizing so many people are going through it and learning as well, I think it's very empowering to the young people."
Nearly 2,000 people-from villagers to staff to parents and guests-gathered at the German Language Village on Friday to take part in the party. A total of 10 languages among 11 villages were represented on Friday: Chinese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and Spanish. And although there was a wide range of nationalities and heritages on hand, the similarities quickly outweighed the differences.
"What's really wonderful is there's a big mix. Villagers come to each different language village with their own heritage, too," Speir said. "They might be speakers of Spanish, but they're learning Russian. It's a strong experience in diversity and acceptance of others on many levels."
Among many others, Friday's festivities include an opening parade, a full-scale soccer tournament, human foosball, an Iron Chef showdown, dancing and foods from all sorts of different cultures.
Additionally, several guest speakers were on hand, including Kathleen Stephens, a former United States Ambassador to South Korea. Stephens served from 2008 to 2011, and is now a visiting scholar at Stanford University, but noted how using language helped in endeavors that have taken her all over the world.
"Doing it, just going out there and keeping at it makes all the difference I think in almost anything you do in life," she said. "Certainly when it comes to trying to reach people and communicate and connect with them through a foreign language... it (makes) such a difference."
The next International Day is set for Aug. 12, setting up the villagers with one final celebration of language and culture this summer.
"I just think it's a pinnacle experience for them to be able to share what they've learned with others," Speir said of I-Day. "It's really unique because they can't do it anywhere else. This doesn't exist anywhere else."