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Lorna Sundberg International Center “exemplifies cultural diversity” on and off Grounds

The IC unites students and community through cultural arts

The Lorna Sundberg International Center, a facility devoted to cross-cultural enrichment at the University, provides opportunities for students to express their heritage while learning about others’ backgrounds. Founded in 1972, the International Center organizes programs which range from henna hand art to making Thai food.

Affectionately referred to as the “IC,” the center — located on University Circle — hosts community and student volunteers who lead one-time social or cultural presentations on a topic of their choice or lead English programs held throughout the year.

“We [have] worked with local salsa instructors, Scottish Country Dancing, Taalim School of Indian Music, The Whiskey Rebellion Band and Charlottesville International Folk Dance,” Program Coordinator Quynh Nguyen said. “We also invited the founder and co-director of the Arctic Culture Forum to give a talk about Inuit art.”

Volunteers lead programs with the support of program assistants who work at the center. Program assistants ensure the cultural experiences at the center are meaningful for both volunteers and program participants.

“I have to read the room and anticipate needs of both the volunteers and participants,” Program Assistant Corinne Conn said. “As a PA, I participate in the programs as well, so each time I go to work I learn something new.”

Program Assistant Laura Smith said International Center programs are especially enriching because they often invite attendee participation.

“My first program at the IC was a presentation on an Indian drum called the ‘tabla,’ given by a community member who has studied it for years, performs and teaches the instrument,” Smith said. “It was so amazing to listen to him and watch him perform in such an intimate setting. You could see every moment of his fingers, and when he spoke, he could look you directly in the eye. Eventually his presentation became a conversation — an open dialogue that we could all participate in, if we wanted to.”

Music is not the only option for a participatory experience at the International Center. Volunteers teach cooking classes, where students learn to make dishes like pad thai or pupusas. The center has also sponsored a Tai Chi workshop and a henna hand painting class.

“Our arts and entertainment events are often quite interactive,” Nguyen said. “[Students] won’t just come and watch someone perform belly dancing. They’ll get to learn how to belly dance as well.”

By drawing on community volunteers, the International Center taps into Charlottesville’s off-Grounds diversity.

“[The center embodies] the cultural diversity not only at the University, but also in the greater Charlottesville community — which students may not be so aware of,” Smith said.

The International Center hosts programs because its staff members said they believe understanding a culture’s art is essential to understanding its values.

“[Art can] influence the way people behave and talk,” Nguyen said. “Additionally, in some countries, most of their history is recorded through art.”

Learning about others’ cultural practices can also help people think more deeply about their own culture.

“They get a chance to reflect on the strangeness of their own background,” Conn said. “Self-reflection is achieved through the programs the IC offers.”

Conn said that in this way, dance, painting and cooking can lead to genuine understanding about the value of diversity.

“Academic education is just the tip of the iceberg, and it might not even be at the top,” Conn said. “Learning about the world and different people is just as important.”