CB Employees at Festival of Nations

6 things we love about local cultural festivals.

When Andrew Nichols volunteered at Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis, it was his first time attending. “It was even cooler than what I thought it would be,” says Andrew, an assistant branch manager with Commerce Bank. “I know Tower Grove Park is big, but I didn’t realize how many different nations would be represented. I wasn’t expecting so much music.”

Cultural festivals strengthen community by bringing people together to learn about each other’s cultures. To celebrate these events, and hopefully encourage you to attend one in your area, we spoke to Commerce team members who volunteered at Festival of Nations and Kansas City’s Ethnic Enrichment Festival and Fiesta Hispana to learn the six reasons these events make for a great outing.

Learning about other cultures.
At the Ethnic Enrichment Festival, Tim O’Connell (talent management systems analyst) watched as more than 60 cultures participated in the Parade of Flags. A long line of people each carrying their country’s flag walked to the main stage and presented their flag and country. “It was amazing to see the wide variety of cultures and ethnicities that were represented and hear their stories,” says Tim.

Different festivals offer ways to interact with and learn about a variety of cultures. For instance, Festival of Nations provides information about St. Louis’ 15 sister cities, which include Galway, Ireland and Suwa, Japan in the Global Corner.

Randyycia Garrett (talent acquisition support specialist) volunteered at Festival of Nations last year, and it was also her first time attending the festival. “I feel like in your day-to-day life you’re around the same people every day,” she comments. “It’s cool to go to an event and see so many cultures represented in one place. It makes you want to learn more.”

Sampling new and different foods.
When you attend one of these events, you’re likely to see people walking around with all kinds of food you’ve never seen before. From fruit sprinkled with chili powder at Fiesta Hispana, to pineapple drinks and mango lassi at Ethnic Enrichment Festival and Festival of Nations, there are plenty of dishes and drinks to try.

Jeff Brown, a business line systems analyst, makes it a goal to attend one new festival every weekend in the summer. This year, he volunteered at Fiesta Hispana with Commerce. He says that, “The smells are wonderful,” thanks to the variety of foods cooking at the many different stands.

At Ethnic Enrichment Festival, Angela Fetters (also a business line systems analyst) tried an iced Columbian coffee, empanadas and shish kebab throughout the day. According to Angela, the only downside to the food at the festival is that she could only try so many things before she got too full. “I tried as many as I could,” she assures.

And here’s a tip, if you catch the food stands at the end of an event, you might be able to score some discounts.

Dancing along to remarkable performances.
Have you seen regional dances from the Philippines or Scandinavian folk dancing? If you attend a cultural festival, you might see these and many more performances from different cultures. Phil Benoist, an east group manager, enjoyed watching the bands on the Monsanto World Music Stage from the nearby Commerce booth at Festival of Nations. He recalls seeing mariachi bands and a folk band that whipped up a 50-person parade down the aisle before bringing about 25 musicians onstage.

Hands-on activities for kids.
At some of the events, organizations host booths on site with a variety of activities, including some for kids. Commerce Bank often sponsors booths with kid-friendly activities. Tim, Angela and other volunteers helped kids make crowns or dinosaur hats out of paper plates, create their own shield and make bracelets at Ethnic Enrichment Festival.

Shopping for items from around the world.
From Chinese shoes to Indian saris, the variety of items available at Ethnic Enrichment Festival and Festival of Nations offers a great way to get in touch with other cultures. You might find something new, connect with a vendor or spot the perfect gift for a loved one.

Meeting new people.
When asked, several of our team members who volunteered said interacting with festival-goers was their favorite part of the day. “It’s a welcoming environment, and everybody’s talking,” says Randyycia. “You can just be yourself and have fun and meet and talk to other people.” When people stopped by the Commerce booth where Randyycia and Phil were volunteering, “We didn’t talk about banking,” Phil says. “We just talked about life and the event and how much fun we were having.”

Andrew says he met people from all over the St. Louis metropolitan area at Festival of Nations, and that some people even came from outlying areas like southeast Missouri.

What will your festival experience be like?
All the volunteers we spoke to agree that the most important thing to know is that you should go. “The next time the invitation comes up, jump up and take advantage of it,” encourages Tim. And, when you go, he says to give yourself plenty of time to walk around, sample plenty of food and share stories. Angela adds that you should wear comfortable shoes and keep an open mind.

Throughout our markets, we’re lucky to have access to cultural events like these. There are plenty more than the three we covered here, and festivals are an excellent way to learn about other cultures and connect with neighbors. Phil says, if you go, “Be prepared to hear and experience things you never have before. Go and see all the things we don’t know about each other.”

As Andrew says, “Music and good food, you can’t go wrong, right?”

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