KOKOMO, Ind. – The aromas of cilantro, onions, garlic, and potatoes fill the air in the Kelley Student Center Commons.
Yudi Gil immediately recognizes an additional smell, of guascas, an herb popular in the Andes Mountains of South American, and more importantly to her, a scent of home.
Gil and Paola Cubides, international students from Bogotá, Colombia, offered their Indiana University Kokomo classmates a taste of their home country, as part of the campus Cultural Café. The presentation, hosted by the Office of International Student Services and the Office of Campus Diversity, featured samples of ajiaco, a chicken and potato soup seasoned with guascas, and a virtual tour, on the IQ wall in the Commons.
“I hope they want to go visit our country and experience the culture,” said Gil.
Just a few tidbits shared — Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country in the world, and is the only country in South America with coasts on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. With about 48 million people, it is the third-most populous country in South America, and one-third of it is covered by the Amazon rainforest. It produces 11.5 million bags of coffee per year, as well as more than 1,500 types of flowers.
The country is named after Italian explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus, whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean opened South America and North America for European conquest and colonization. However, the spelling is Colombia, after the Spanish and Italian spellings of his name, which were Cristóbal Colón and Cristoforo Colombo.
Cubides appreciated the chance to give a true picture of her home country, noting that many people she meets in the United States think all Hispanic countries are tropical and feature spicy cuisine.
“When I tell them I am from Colombia, and I don’t like spicy food they say, ‘But you are Latino, you have to like it,’” she said, adding that the Mexican food readily available in Indiana is not the same as traditional Colombian delicacies — and even within her country, each region has its own specialties.
“Not every Latino country is the same,” she said. “We want them to know where Colombia is, and more than that, about the culture, what living there is like, and the kinds of weather we have. People think it’s all tropical, but each region has different weather. We’re giving the opportunity for students to know more about our country than what they may have seen on television.”
That’s the point of the Cultural Café, according to Chad Broeker, director of international student services.
“It’s important to learn about other countries, directly from people who are from there,” he said. The previous event featured students from Nigeria. Two additional Cultural Cafés are planned during the spring 2020 semester, he added.
The international students prepare a presentation, and also provide a recipe for a food representative of their home country.
“Food is an important part of a country’s culture,” Broeker said. “Food is how we gather around to learn from each other, and adds a taste of authenticity.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.