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Everyone is welcome at the VIC Valparaiso International Center brings world to downtown Valpo

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Community News & People in the News, Featured

Published on June 20, 2018 with No Comments

Yong Bancho, a native South Korean, wears traditional garb and samples ethnic foods during a viewing party in Valparaiso of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. The Valparaiso International Center co-sponsored the gathering.

When you think of Colombia, you may envision drugs, crimes, and killings. Did you know that, after neighboring Brazil, Colombia boasts the second-largest biodiversity in the world?

The third most populous country in South America, Colombia is the only South American country to border both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. Home to 10 percent of the world’s wildlife, Colombia has seven different climate zones, 433 types of native fruits and more than 1,500 types of flowers.

All that information was available at the Fourth Friday program May 25 at the Valparaiso International Center. Incorporated in 2007, the VIC serves as a forum to learn about different cultures through international events, festivals, classes, and discussion groups. It also provides services that help international residents and visitors feel welcome and fully enjoy American culture and rights.

VIC founder Duane Davison, whose work took him to all 50 states and more than 80 countries, settled with his family in Valparaiso. As he explained, “My goal was to open cultures and travel the globe without leaving home.”

In February, the VIC co-sponsored a viewing party of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. In addition to Fourth Fridays, which feature a different ethnic speaker each month, the VIC offers a Spanish-English Intercambio (exchange) on second Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. This is an opportunity to use or improve one’s Spanish.

Yangzi Sherpa, a nursing graduate from Nepal, samples ethnic foods during a viewing party in Valparaiso of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. The Valparaiso International Center co-sponsored the gathering.

In April, the VIC hosted a program on the work of Valparaiso University students and the World Relief Campaign to address the need for vocational training in Les Cayes, Haiti, which is the poorest nation in this hemisphere.

In August, the VIC will resume its China Tea House, held in conjunction with the Confucius Institute. Presented by VU professors and visiting professors, the Tea House includes Chinese refreshments, games and entertainment.

The VIC also engages Fair Trade and Farm Direct from Haiti, programs designed at directly helping the producers of farm produce, jewelry, and other items from around the world.

Oscar Castillo and Kathe Bustamante, standing outside the Valparaiso International Center, spoke on their native Colombia during a recent VIC Fourth Friday program. The center invites local people to speak about their native lands and address current issues.

The VIC’s biggest activity of the year is the World Cultural Festival, marking its 10th anniversary in 2018. This year’s festival will be held Sunday, Sept. 16 from noon to 5:00 p.m. at Central Park Plaza in downtown Valparaiso. This free program features music, art, dance, and food from different cultures.

Later this year, on Monday, Nov. 12, VIC has invited Romanian Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor to speak at VU. Her message, Davison said, is one of hope and forgiveness.

Looking at the list of countries represented at VIC Fourth Fridays, Davison noted, “We focus on positive stories of immigrants doing business in our community.”

Artwork along the outdoor walls of the Valparaiso International Center reflects the VIC’s commitment to worldwide cultures and issues. The center invites local people to speak about their native lands and address current issues.

Highlighted Fourth Friday countries have included Brazil, Thailand, England, South Korea, Nepal, Macedonia, Oman, Indonesia, Egypt, Japan, China, Peru, Sierra Leone, New Zealand, Argentina, Philippines, Benin, Turkey, Kenya, and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

“These are all the people that live around here, and we’ve focused on them,” Davison said. “Frankly, I’m impressed.”

The Colombia (or Columbia) speakers were Oscar Castillo and Kathe Bustamante, both coming to the U.S. from the capital city of Bogotá. Castillo is an engineer working for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, while Bustamante’s background is speech pathology. Castillo came to this country four years ago; Bustamante came here 10 months ago.

Home to more than 49 million people, Colombia has five regions – Andean, Sancocho, Pacific, Orinoco, and Amazon – each with its own identity, culture, foods, and music. The Pacific region is home to Cali, where some of the best salsa dancers in the world are found.

The Spanish influence in Colombia is evident in old architecture, including the Santuario de las Lajas, a church situated between two mountains in the Andes region. On the Caribbean side is the Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress built to protect the country from Spaniards.

Colombia also has the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize winner in President Juan Manuel Santos. His efforts resulted in the end of a 52-year civil war in 2017 between the government and guerrilla forces.

The Valparaiso International Center is located at 309 E. Lincolnway in downtown Valparaiso. For more information on activities or special events, call 219-464-1122 or visit www.valpovic.org.

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