After a week of incredible events celebrating our campus’ cultural diversity, the International Students’ Organization (ISO) hosted “Radiance,” its annual variety show, a long-standing tradition for passionate and talented international students to entertain the eager crowd with a magical evening of dance, poetry and art.
In Wilson Hall on Saturday visitors were greeted with a rank of colorful flags, a vibrant display transforming the building’s classic red brick walls. The decorations were reminiscent of the extravagant Eurovision Song Contest or the World Cup.
While students, faculty, staff and community members came to the performance for a variety of reasons, many expressed the importance of feeling connected to cultures that are physically far from Middlebury as well as to celebrate diverse historical traditions.
For Liza Grebenkina ’25, an international student from Russia, the performance felt especially comforting. Grebenkina expressed the importance of creating moments to celebrate in community, especially around culture and art.
The event also came at a crucial moment in the experience of many international students. ISO co-presidents Maya Teiman ’25 and Sonam Choedon ’25 addressed the current tensions over the Israel-Hamas war and the impact these tragic events have had on students.
“Our community on campus is deeply affected by what’s going on in Palestine and Israel, and that ISO hopes to serve as an organization that supports our students in bringing our community together in times of distress like this,” Teiman said.
Teiman also mentioned that the ISO will be providing opportunities for education and activism opportunities in the coming weeks. In general, Teiman reflected on how, no matter the current political climate, the ISO show is larger than any one group on campus and can be traced back to a decades-long tradition.
“It’s the one time a year we get to bring the entire international community together and perform an event that’s not only for ourselves but also for the broader on campus and off-campus communities,” Teiman said. “It’s been a really long tradition and we’re happy to keep it going.”
Choedon echoed Teiman’s emphasis on community – “Even though things are happening in other countries, we are still together,” Choedon added.
The ISO show indeed offered an invitation for students to simultaneously engage with their differences and come together. The show began with colorful decorations that gave life to the student performers and soon were accompanied by dances, poems, raps, songs and thundering cheers and whoops from the audience.
One highlight of the entire event was the fashion show that happened in the middle of the performances. Booming music kept the audience enthralled as students walked the runway in traditional garments from China, Bangladesh, Kenya and Pakistan. The striking colors and sassy energy from models provided a powerful visual of what it means to celebrate one’s background.
For Samia Sami ’24, who organized the fashion show, this portion of the event was a way to visually diversify what is normally worn on campus and also promote cultural pride, allowing students to confidently strut down a runway with fierce and playful energy.
Sami reflected on breaking the status quo at a place like Middlebury, and her goal of bringing as many cultures as possible onto the runway.
“[It] did not encompass all [cultures] but a lot. Seeing people in their traditional attire, feeling comfortable in a PWI [predominantly white institution], it’s a dream come true,” said Sami. “The walks—there are so many different varieties you can do in a simple way, seeing the pairs go up together and make a little eye contact — it’s always so cute.”
This performance was not only a way to show off long-held and deeply rooted traditions and practices, but a way to redefine culture and experience culture anew. For performers, the show also presented an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and try something new in front of a large audience.
“I’ve never done a dance performance before, so it was exciting, and I had a lot of fun,” said Thalia Cerda ‘26. For Cerda, the importance of the ISO show was personal, but represented something greater as well. When asked why she feels it is important to share her culture, Cerda said: “To keep representation alive, there isn’t a single definition of what a specific culture looks like.”
The ISO show was the cherry on top of a week full of festivities that celebrated roots and cultures far beyond our Vermont campus. Despite Middlebury’s sometimes isolating nature, the ISO show provided a vibrant, supportive environment for diverse cultural expression. The show successfully exposed a largely American audience to diverse traditions, while also allowing its performers and members to celebrate their own cultures.