Global USA Hosts South by Southeast Festival

By: Gracie King | Feature Editor | 

Photo by: Michael Dunn | Photographer

Grab your pails and shovels and let’s head to the beach! Or…the Student Center Amphitheater? 

Global USA, Jaguar Productions, USA Dining and the USA Archaeology Museum all partnered to contribute to the South by Southeast Asian Festival that began this year. The festival featured many events like Art Tea and Talk, Nepali Night, which featured authentic Nepali food, and the sandcastle building competition on Wednesday, April 13. 

“The festival is in celebration of the New Years that is being celebrated across the world,” said Justine Burbank, the coordinator of the International Student Programs. “Southeastern Asian and South Asian countries have a lot of New Years celebrations in the middle of April and so this was a way for our students from abroad to get to showcase their heritage.”

Songkran is the symbolic annual New Year festival in Thailand that has been celebrated for centuries. Traditionally, Thai people visit a local temple and offer food and drink to the Buddhist monks in the morning. They also pour scented water over statues of Buddha as a symbol of fertility and cleansing of sins. 

While Songkran is officially on the 13th of April, the holiday lasts from the 12th to the 16th to allow families to travel and celebrate together. The mark of the New Years occurs when the Sun moves from the Pisces position to the Aries position on the zodiac calendar. 

The sandcastles are also a very important part of the festival. In Thai culture, it is disrespectful and forbidden to take anything from a temple to your home, including the sand tracked in by their feet. Families and friends return to the temple to bring the sand back and build pagodas as offerings. 

And as for how all that sand made it to campus?

“That was me at Lowes this morning asking people to please help me load my truck,” Burbank said. 

Participants of the competition used stones, marbles, Mardi Gras beads and artificial flowers to adorn their castles and take home the prize of traditional Thai garb. In the end, Team Friends of Internationals took home the gold after building a sandcastle fit for a sand king. 

“Friends of Internationals is here to create a place of belonging for international students, so we’re like a family for them,” said Chris Lawson. “Having lived over seas for three years before mobing to Mobile, I know what it’s like to be in a place where you don’t speak the language and don’t understand how things work so that’s really why we’re here, to create an extended family for those away from theirs.”

The weeklong celebration ended on Thursday with an art event where students had the opportunity to learn about and create traditional Bengladeshi art. Next year, Global USA hopes to expand the event to have more days and feature more countries.