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iFest Makes Sandburg Come Alive with Cultural Celebration

Every year, Sandburg students come together to represent their heritage and culture in a highly anticipated performance at the end of February. International Fest, or iFest, is held by the International Club, and showcases a wide variety of countries through students who prepare different cultural dances and foods to present to Sandburg.

This year, IFEST will be held Thursday night on February 22, with a daytime performance on February 23 for teachers to bring their students to watch in the Performing Arts Center.

“International club is a club where we celebrate diversity amongst our student body and our staff,” explains Ms. Abdel-Aziz, one of the club’s cosponsors. “Every year we have iFest, which is an international festival where we have different groups from all around the world perform dances wearing traditional clothing…so they do a traditional dance that pertains to their culture, and then a modern dance that pertains to their culture.”

“I saw the show from last year because a lot of people I knew were a part of it,” says Julia Pydyniak, a member of the Polish group. “I joined because a lot of people I knew were joining, and I just thought it’d be a fun way to connect using our culture.”

Sam Cuarteros of the Filipino group shares, “My brother showed me a video from iFest 2023. It looked fun, so that made me interested to meet other Filipinos in the school, since I only knew of one other Filipino in 8th grade.”

With each performance, iFest gains more popularity and members. In just the past few years she has been the club’s sponsor, Ms. Abdel-Aziz remarks on how the scale of iFest has grown. “We have a little over 300 kiddos this year participating, where the past two years we were around the 180-190, so just seeing that grow in size is truly amazing.” she explains.

“When I used to watch it as a student, I would say that we had probably like 8 groups performing,” Spanish teacher Ms. Brown says, “and now coming back and teaching, I feel like we have so much more representation from different cultures, so it’s really great to be able to see so many different groups of people come together and create a dance and show unity in that way.”

“There’s new groups being represented that weren’t in the past, and it’s just kids who come to see the performances and they’re like, ‘Oh, why don’t I start that group?’” Ms. Abdel-Aziz says. “The more representation, the better.”

This year, there are 14 groups total: Baltic States, Latino, Belarus, Philippines, Ukraine, Greek, African, South Korea, Croatia, Polish, Irish, Middle East, African American, and Indo/Pak. This lineup is the order that the groups will perform on February 22 and 23 in the PAC, during which they will display dances that they have worked on since the start of the school year.

Photo courtesy of @cshsifest on Twitter / X

“The kids start working in August coming up with the choreographed dances, and just lear[n] and teac[h] their other group members,” explains Ms. Abdel-Aziz. She adds how one of her favorite parts about iFest is “seeing it all come to life on stage after months of practice and rehearsals.”

Kacey Enoya, a freshman in the Filipino group describes the practices as “generally a two hour meeting where we meet up at someone’s house and we go through the dances a couple times, and then typically we have a break, and hang out, and eat. It’s a very social type of meeting.”

“I feel like kids think that International Club is just you sit down and you meet once a month and you just discuss random things,” Ms. Abdel-Aziz adds. “They don’t realize how much more it is, where there’s a performance, and there’s a lunchtime activity, so seeing that has really contributed to the growth of what iFest has become.”

This lunchtime activity is “like a little spinoff of Taste of Chicago,” says Ms. Abdel Aziz. On the day of the performance, each group sets up in the lunchroom with food, facts, and sometimes a fun dance from their culture. This draws the attention of students eating or passing through to stop and learn something new or try a new food.

“So all these different cultures bring in food that they think is the main dish, or main dessert, and all the kids during lunch hour just get to walk around and sample different foods,” she explains, “and it’s just so nice to see that all students and staff just love this whole event, and they all come and they taste and they sample, and they try new things that they would have never even known about.”

And it’s not just these Sandburg lunch-goers trying something new. Some of the members performing in iFest are stepping out of their comfort zone to be a part of this big event. “Last year, there was a member who was a little shy, and was like ‘I’m not a dancer, I can’t do it,’ and the leader really worked with them, and by the performance all the jitters and the nervousness went away and they rocked it, they did phenomenal,” Ms. Abdel-Aziz shares.

“Don’t be nervous to try new things. You’re never going to know unless you try. And I’ve had kids come back who’ve been here freshman year to senior year, and they’re like, ‘It’s been one of the best experiences that I’ve had,’ and all because they took that chance freshman year.”

“I saw it through freshman orientation day, and I wanted to join because I wanted to be more connected to my culture and I wanted to try out more traditional dances,” says Enoya. “I am a little nervous to dance in front of the school, but so far I’m really liking our modern dances and I like learning about the traditional dance.”

Photo courtesy of @cshsifest on Twitter / X

“I’m excited to perform,” says Pydyniak. “I like the dances, I like the way the group is looking.”

Despite how nerve-racking the performances may be for some of the iFest members, it’s undeniable how fun and exciting they are to watch. “This is a fan-favorite across our entire school community. I’ve had teachers already emailing me or texting me ‘Hey, when is iFest? I want to make sure I’m on it when you guys send out the link,’’’ shares Ms. Abdel-Aziz.

“There’s not enough words to describe how amazing it is just to see the unity… it’s truly very diverse, you don’t realize how diverse Sandburg is until you’re in that Performing Arts Center watching group after group after group perform.”

The diversity and connections present in these dances are evident, and inspiring to watch. “It’s really exciting to see students be able to create dances together with people from similar backgrounds and really produce a product that is always really great and really exciting, and it’s just such a positive day for everybody,” Ms. Brown expresses.

“I like being connected with other people with the same culture as me,” Enoya adds. “I think it’s also helped connect a lot of Filipinos together in the school, because it gives us a place where we can all be around each other.”

Pydyniak also mentions the “fun dynamic” that her group has, saying, “I was able to meet a lot of people. They’re people that I knew, but also we kind of connected in a way because we already had something in common being in the group together.”

iFest is more than just a performance. It has connected and inspired both students and teachers, and has created lasting memories for all who decided to participate, with many more to come.

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