Student-organized International Night an annual St. Olaf tradition
There aren’t many places in Northfield where you can hear music in more than 10 languages or see more than 100 people hailing from 59 nations standing on one stage.
But that’s exactly what you can find at International Night, an annual St. Olaf College tradition. This year marked St. Olaf’s 55th International Night, a student-organized event where every student is invited to share a piece of their culture with the St. Olaf community. The theme of “This is My Story” was celebrated through song, dance, and the spoken word.
International night embodies how St. Olaf students cultivate an inclusive, globally engaged community, right here on campus.
International Night is organized by the International Student Organization (ISO) in collaboration with the Diversity Initiatives Support Committee and the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion. ISO has more than 120 members, including both domestic and international students. The group aims to bring students of all countries and cultures together through events like International Night.
Giang Le ’24 is from Vietnam and is one of the co-chairs of ISO. “Our group isn’t only for international students,” she says, “but also domestic students who have a passion and interest in creating a more inclusive community.”
Norma Charlton, the Taylor Center’s assistant director of equity and intercultural engagement, has been advising ISO since 2019 — and the students adore her. Aneeq Mir ’25, a student from India who serves as the other co-chair of ISO, says “Norma is always there for each and every international student.”
Charlton, in turn, loves and admires the students. “I support International Night logistically,” she says, “but really the messaging and leadership comes from the executive team. I am very grateful to be able to support the co-chairs leadership journey and to witness the passion and talents of all ISO’s members that makes it possible to bring this large event to life.”
This is a fun opportunity to interact with many students from diverse backgrounds and express pride in their respective countries through traditional clothes, cultural expressions, and native languages.Giang Le ’24
Director of International Student Programs Brisa Zubia recently joined St. Olaf from Carleton, and now she too advises ISO. “For me, International Night sparked an even higher passion to help international students to share their voices and bring the broader St. Olaf community in,” she says.
This year’s International Night included 15 performances, including a poem in Arabic, a Hmong dance, and a Taiko drum performance. Students audition as early as November for a chance to perform at the showcase. “Everyone practices really hard, sometimes for months, for this audition,” says Le.
One of the most electric performances of the night was K-pop and Asian-inspired dance group D-VINE’s dance to PSY’s “That That” at International Night.
One of D-VINE’s members is Justo Martins Freitas ’24, who coordinates PR and marketing for ISO. He’s also the only student from the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste at St. Olaf. “For those without a regular space, International Night is a good platform,” he says.
The night also included a senior address. This year’s speaker was Jeremias Thiel ’23, who shared an original poem on the necessity of building community. “For if we cannot come together as one,” he says, “Our civil society is not now, but forever gone.”
International Night always ends with the flag walk, where a student emcee yells names of countries, Olympics-style. Then, people run onto the stage holding their flag and speak to the crowd. “This is a fun opportunity to interact with many students from diverse backgrounds and express pride in their respective countries through traditional clothes, cultural expressions, and native languages,” says Le.
It’s a powerful ending, and a favorite memory for many students.
“It’s like seeing a whole world coming together in the Pause,” says Mir.