The East Lansing Public Library opened its doors Sunday afternoon to community members from all over the world for the ninth annual East Lansing Welcomes the World.
During the 2-hour event, the public mingled and met neighbors of other cultures over food, crafts, and children’s games.
Phyllis Thode, community development and volunteer coordinator for East Lansing Public Library, organized the event. She estimates 300 people attend every year, many of whom are bused in from Michigan State University’s campus. Thode said the university is a major reason to hold East Lansing Welcomes the World. “MSU has such a large international population,” she said. In fact, East Lansing residents represent more than 140 countries of origin “They might feel homesick or lost and not have a lot of connection to the community, so this is a way for them to meet people in the East Lansing community, so they can feel this is more their home. We want them to know that the library is always here, there’s friendly faces here that would like to talk with them.”
Sonia Lujan said she felt lonely when she first moved to the United States from Peru 7 years ago. “We were isolated,” she said, “You don’t know how to make friends here because you don’t know the culture here.” Lujan has friends in East Lansing now, though, and enjoys attending the event with her husband and son every year.
The stay-at-home-mom and former teacher said she has met people “from Iran, India, China and Korea, but no one from my country. But that’s OK. I can practice my English and also meet people from other cultures, and that’s more interesting, I think.” Lujan says East Lansing Welcomes the World has challenged some misconceptions she held about other cultures. “Sometimes you don’t know the culture of other people and you might think, ‘This culture is this way,’ but when you get to meet other people from that culture, your mind changes. For instance, Iranians are very friendly. I thought they were not friendly, but the ladies that I met were so friendly, so nice. I thought they would not want to be friends with me because of the culture… because I am Christian and they are Muslim. But they were nice, very nice.”
Karin Polischuk and her children also attend every year. The former retail manager is now president of the Glencairn Parent Teacher Organization, where her children attend school with classmates of many nationalities and cultures. “One of the many things I love about living in East Lansing is that because of where we live and because we are a college town, we have so many international residents,” she said “Some are here permanently, some are here temporarily, but I just feel it really adds to our community.”
Polischuk said she tries to be welcoming to the international community at Glencairn Elementary School, and East Lansing Welcomes the World is an opportunity to show them the resources at the library.
In addition to resources provided by the East Lansing Public Library, information tables were set up about the services offered by the city, Community Volunteers for International Programs, Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, and Capital Area Transportation Authority.
East Lansing Welcomes the World was sponsored by the East Lansing Public Library, the City of East Lansing, Michigan State University’s Office for International Students and Scholar, and Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. Thode says the event was made possible by its nearly 30 volunteers and food vendors.