Annual flag parade celebrates the diversity at MU through its 10th anniversary

MISC President Kristy Lai: “These flags not only represent where students come from, but it also represents our culture, our beliefs and our home.”

The Missouri International Student Council hosted its 10th annual flag parade Tuesday morning, just before the International Bazaar at 11 a.m. Students and faculty waved flags from 31 different countries as they walked around campus.

The event was held in honor of MU International Day, which was established in 2008 by MISC and takes place every fourth Tuesday in September.

Beginning at Traditions Plaza, the group walked to Tiger Plaza, the front of the Student Center, in front of the Columns in Francis Quadrangle and finally in front of Jesse Hall. The group stopped for pictures at each destination.

Students volunteered to hold a flag, either through signing up at the International Student Welcome ceremony in August or through social media.

MISC secretary Lilian Tang said the council typically has “favorites” that are present every year; if a student wants their flag shown, they can request to have it paraded and MISC will check its inventory. Students are also welcome to use their personal flags.

Some students, such as senior Momoko Tamamura, who carried the Japanese flag, wore clothing to represent their country. Tamamura wore a kimono as she walked around campus

Tang said not every flag was being carried by someone who was from that country and some volunteers offered to carry the flags of other countries.

MISC activity manager Veli Thipe is an international student from South Africa but walked holding the Thailand flag in the parade. This is because, as a part of the MISC board, he wanted to have as many flags represented as possible.

After the parade, MISC President Kristy Lai Zhou shared her appreciation for International Day with the crowd. Having flags represented by students and faculty is important in bringing a sense of community, she said.

“These flags not only represent where students come from, but it also represents our culture, our beliefs and our home,” Lai said.

She said that the parade, along with the bazaar afterward, is meant to serve as a reminder that the “immense diversity” at MU can sometimes be overlooked.

“Diversity is the key that brings us all together,” Lai said. “International students journey from far away to not only come learn but also to come and share our beliefs, change our perspectives and to provide a better understanding of the world that we live in. It is vital that we start here at Mizzou.”

MISC had James Scott, director of the International Center and interim vice provost for International Programs, as the keynote speaker.

“You are welcome here,” Scott said to applause from the crowd. “You’ve heard that before. And maybe it’s hard to feel that way … but you are welcome here.”

Scott said how grateful he was to have students from many different countries at MU.

“We’re honored that you chose to come here from around the world and you took the awesome bet that you would get a good education here,” Scott said. “To me, it really is an awesome responsibility as a faculty member and as a leader of this institution to serve you, your needs and your desires.”

Scott said he wants Mizzou international students to feel at home while on campus and feel engaged as a member of the greater community. He said this event will help strengthen the relationship between the university and international students.

“You’re here today in the Traditions Plaza, and I think that’s really important and really great that you claim your rightful place in this institution,” Scott said. “[Traditions Plaza is] a place where we honor the legacy of this institution and you contribute to it every day. So it’s just right for you to do that.”

Thipe said he thinks the tone towards international students at MU is a welcoming one already. Not only has the MU International Center helped Thipe, he said, but “each and every department here on campus is very helpful.”

MU staff and faculty have assisted Thipe in becoming more accustomed to different lifestyles he has experienced since moving to Columbia.

“[Staff at MU are] actually aware of the culture shock and how students acclimate to things like the temperature and the education system here in the U.S.,” he said.

Thitinun Boonseng, MU Asian Affairs Center liaison for Thai Programs and former MISC president, spoke about the first year the flag parade was held. He said he was surprised it had already been 10 years and shared how MISC first planned the event.

The idea to improve the International Student Welcome Ceremony came about in spring 2008. MISC worked with the International Programming Committee and brainstormed ideas to improve the ceremony. One idea was to include flags from the different countries that students came from.

Upon hearing the ideas for improvement, the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs provided MISC with a budget to buy 20 new flags, Boonseng said.

“Look at how many we have now,” he said, motioning to the 31 flags behind him.

Those flags were first used at the International Initiative Banquet. Afterward, Boonseng said he noticed that it was different from other events he had attended.

“People didn’t want to leave,” Boonseng said. “They would just stand right in front of the flags taking photos. The news reporter was asking me, ‘Ta, let’s move over there to take a picture to interview you with the flags.’”

Eventually, the parade was moved to before the annual International Bazaar, as it is held now. And with that, Boonseng said the main objective of the day became making the MU campus aware of international students’ presence.

“The goal was for students, staff and faculty to come in on campus and just feel like ‘international’ adds more to the air on that day,” he said. “They can’t be missed.”

Boonseng said he wanted international students to have one day every year just for celebrating the different backgrounds represented at MU. After MISC proposed a bill to the Missouri Students Association to establish MU International Day, it was passed with unanimous agreement.

As time went on, Boonseng and his fellow MISC members expressed fear in the parade being forgotten after they graduated. They decided to take the bill to former Chancellor Brady Deaton. Deaton agreed and wrote up a proclamation that declared MU International Day the fourth Tuesday of September annually for the entire university.

In the 10 years since the first event, Boonseng said he’s seen the effects of having the flags represented on campus. He has seen pictures of different faculty members with their flags hung in offices and pictures of them posing with their countries’ flags scattered across social media.

Tang agreed and said she has noticed the amount of pride the volunteers have displayed in seeing their flags paraded around campus. She said she also sees a lot of returning members and volunteers participating in the parade.

“You get such a sense of pride from carrying flags around, and I think people who advocate for diversity, they are dedicated to this,” Tang said.

Boonseng said he thinks that because of the diversity within MISC and other student organizations, the tradition of the flag parade has stayed at MU for the last 10 years.

“Different minds, different brain power, working together with a staff, faculty and administrations … I think that really contributed to the long-lasting traditions at Mizzou,” Boonseng said.

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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