Where the world is celebrated in a day

29th May 2009 at 01:00
From hairdressing to drumming, students bring a bit of international spirit to their college

It has become a popular annual event at Aberdeen College - an International Day when students who have come to study here from all over the world celebrate the cultures of their homeland.

There's food to taste, national costumes and crafts to see and extraordinary personal stories from those who have come here for further education - some from the world's poorest countries. Several are on the college's English for Speakers of Other Languages courses; others, like Francess Louden, 32, from Sierra Leone, are studying vocational courses to help them with new careers.

Francess is in her third year studying hairdressing and looks like a burst of sunshine in a bright yellow and orange dress. "This is African costume definitely, it's very big isn't it?" she says, showing off the skirt's flounces. "But I don't get the opportunity to wear it much because the weather is not so hot here."

She met her Scottish husband when he was an army doctor in Sierra Leone during the civil war there, which lasted more than a decade. They married when Francess came to Scotland seven years ago, after the war officially ended. Just a few minutes' conversation with her reveals a life with more than its fair share of tragedy, in a country where tens of thousands of people were killed or mutilated and millions displaced during the war years.

But Francess has an optimistic smile to match her sunny outfit and is looking forward to finishing her course and enjoying the new opportunities her training will bring.

At a nearby stand, two friends from Bangladesh are Nadira Akther, 22, and Nahida Islam, 24, who came here 10 months ago to join one of the Esol courses. "I want to do something and I want more study and I want more English," says Nadira, showing off an ornate sari and armfuls of bracelets.

Her friend Nahida is wearing salwar kameez, the traditional dress of men and women in South Asia: "We've been telling them about my country's people, how they make a living and how they study - everything," she says.

Behind them, the Polish contingent is performing a drama about a dragon and a princess, which has attracted a large crowd. Philip Salajczyk, 30, is the fire-breathing dragon who works as a cook in a nursing home and learns English at the college. The princess is Justina Stepinska, who works at Asda and is learning English to pursue her dreams of becoming a dentist. "It's for a better future. I would like to stay forever, because Aberdeen is really good. I would like to study a second year and after that I think about the University of Aberdeen and I think about dentistry," she says.

This is the sixth year this event has been staged after Esol students and others from overseas came up with the idea. They were learning so much about Scotland, they felt Scots students would be interested to learn about their cultures back home. Over the years, the event has grown, and this year students from Poland, Russia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Turkey, Thailand and Nigeria are among those taking part.

It is a truly cross-curricular project with hairdressing students demonstrating international styles, a drumming workshop and art exhibition set up in the busy Loch Street common room at the college's Gallowgate Centre. Film production students are capturing the event on camera and Learning Opportunity students have baked international breads for the occasion.

"The atmosphere is terrific - everyone joins in and talks to each other and, with all the students looking absolutely fantastic in their colourful costumes, there are a lot of cameras on the go," says Susie Mackenzie- Brooks, sector manager at Aberdeen College.

Scotland has a stand at this international gathering - staffed by travel and tourism students, including 22-year-old Estonian Marianna Novopasina, who is in her second year at college.

She is busy with the display of brochures about golf and the year of Homecoming and offering pieces of shortbread and tablet to visitors. But why isn't she on an Estonia stall? "I like Scotland - that's why I am here," she explains. "I am studying this course, so I would like to represent the Scottish side."

So what has she learnt about tourism during her two years of study and what does she think is Scotland's greatest asset? "Kilts - men in kilts," she says without hesitation. "Then there's the whisky, the tartans, the culture and how brave they are from centuries in the past. I've been in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness and I would love that more people come here and explore this culture. There's not enough advertising abroad."

Marianna should be signed up by VisitScotland sharpish.

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