Harvard Law international party showcases world spirit, national pride

BY MATTHIAS KETTEMANN

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You could call it an incredibly fascinating event representing the richness of the LL.M. student body, the diversity of the world’s cultures and the broad variety of cultural and gastronomic traditions. Or you could stick with the assessment of Richard Staeuber, LL.M. student from Switzerland: “It was really terrific!” The International Party which took place on Saturday, February 13, in the Ropes Gray Room lends itself to both descriptions. 

In what has been traditionally one of the major annual social events at Harvard Law School, this year’s LL.M. class of 165 students from 62 countries, presented a highly appealing mix of cultural traditions from all corners of the world. Students of each country organized a table at which they presented typical national dishes (with a heavy leaning towards the sweet), showed off their country’s cultural and touristic highlights, and provided information for the avid traveler. 

“Walking around the room was like going on a voyage around the world”, Martina Gerszt-Wernli from Switzerland said. At the Chinese table you could take part in a quiz and pinpoint famous sights on a map. At the Swiss table you could answer rather tricky questions and win a Swiss watch. The Australian table tried to entice students to try the famous vegemite, a salty and malty spread with an interesting aftertaste. Students from Japan showed the basics of calligraphy and drew names in Japanese characters. At the German table, you could try wurst (though I missed the sauerkraut). The African tables focused on the rich cultural heritage of the continent. 

The smells, sounds and sights made Ropes Gray Room, for one evening, into what America as a whole has always been said to be: a melting pot of nations. It was great to see many members of the HLS community come in and visit the LL.M. students they know from classes, but about whose origins and traditions they might not know so much. The impressive diversity served as a reminder of how fascinating the world is – and made students change their travel plans again and again as they progressed from table to table. Indeed, the students’ recounts of how fascinating their home countries are rivaled any description in Lonely Planet. 

If the wonderful smells emanating from the pots and dishes on the country tables were not enough to bewitch the visitors, they could raise their head and enjoy the photos and videos that LL.M. student Sajjad Nematollahi from Iran had turned into an impressive presentation. From Austrian cows peacefully chewing on grass in Alpine pastures to the otherworldly beauty of Thai beaches, it was easy to be swept off your feet (also because somebody might bump into you in the packed Ropes Gray room).

While the food at some places was slowly running out (Matt Hutchins, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Record, had told contributors earlier that “everyone should go and at least sample all the delicious food” and they had obviously taken him up on this – and brought their friends), the attention of the more than a thousand visitors from the Harvard Law School community turned to the evening’s highlights: the performances. 

Students impressed the audience with Greek and Chinese dances, a Karate show, beautiful songs from members of the Australian and UK delegations and enriching shows, including from Southeastern Europe and South-East Asia. Jeanne Tai, Assistant Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies, echoed the spirit of the cheering audience when she declared the performances to have been “totally awesome”. 

As the day of the International Party was also the first day of the Brazilian carnival, the Brazilian students (in bright yellow soccer T-shirts reminiscent of Ronaldo) finished the International Party off with a huge general carnival and long congas. While not all dancers were as much in sync with the rhythms as the students with experience of rocking the Copacabana, the energy and happiness was palpable. Good thing the Austrian table provided some “Red Bull” (yes, folks, it is as Austrian as Arnold Schwarzeneegger).

Since Valentine’s Day came the day after the International Party, you could see pairs holding hands as the party wound down at midnight: a great way to start a day dedicated to love with a party that showed the unity of human spirit underlying the diversity of its expression. Because in the end, this was what all students could see and feel in the displays of art and culture, cuisine and traditions of the different countries: the love of life, the power of hope and the pride in the history and uniqueness of cultural and culinary expression.

In her address in September 2009, Dean Martha Minow told international students: “We searched the world for you!” At the International Party, the LL.M. Class of 2010 found hundreds of different ways to say thank you and allowed the HLS community a glimpse of the diversity of the world beyond the Charles. And best of all, for the rest of term, the LL.M. students are still here. You can just go talk to them. Most don’t bite. Just don’t ask the Australians to make you a vegemite sandwich. 

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