Lebanese Student Organization hands out food at Taste of OSU on Feb. 15. Credit: Lily Maslia | For The Lantern

The aroma of spicy food wafted through the Ohio Union as students crowded the edges of the stage, eagerly waiting for their opportunity to perform for the Ohio State community.

Meanwhile, students sampled cuisine from different regions of Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa, and at each booth learned more about their fellow Buckeyes’ different backgrounds.

“It’s nice to have a night dedicated to cultural exchange and cultural diversity at OSU,” Alessa Rosa, PR coordinator at the Office of International Affairs, said. “It’s one of the biggest stages students get to be on to really highlight the cultural aspects of their background and what makes them unique.”

Taste of OSU is an annual event hosted by the OIA on Friday night, featuring cultural performances and food exhibitions from over 40 different student organizations.

The event was designed as a way to expose students to the variety of different cultures found within the Ohio State community, and also gives international students the opportunity to share their cultures with others on a big stage, Rosa said.

“There is a rich diversity here on campus, so an event like this really allows you to see the depth of that diversity in one place,” Rosa said. “We want to provide the space and platform for students and student organizations to show their diversity.”

With 30 student food booths in the Ohio Union, 32 student organizations served two recipes each.

To be able to serve food at the event, student organizations were required to make sure their recipes met a designated budget, attend a food-safety training session and get their recipe ingredients approved by the OIA.

“With over 60 recipes, there are thousands of ingredients to keep track of,” Rosa said. “That was definitely its own challenge, but we wanted to have variety.”

Students could wait in line to sample food from each organization, and received one meal portion per food ticket, which could be purchased at the event for $1.

Another goal of the event was to educate those with limited travel experience or exposure to the world around them in a memorable way, Kidest Beyene a third-year in public affairs and African American and African studies and the event’s co-host, said.

Students performed a variety of music and dance acts onstage in the Ohio Union. There were also opportunities to learn more about each student organization at each booth, be it through conversation or an interactive activity.

“You may not know it, but you’re learning about another person’s culture just by getting a henna at a booth, for example,” Beyene said. “When you try a sample or see a booth, you’re able to learn in a fun way.”

Beyene was involved in the event’s planning process for two years, first as the chair-elect in 2017 and as the event chair the next year.

Beyene said she is still awed by how diverse the Ohio State community is, and hopes this event serves as the first, but not last, exposure to the different cultures and ethnicities campus is home to.

“Our hope is always that students will go into the event with an open mind,” Beyene said. “And that they are willing to not only try different foods, but to engage a bit more with other cultures, even after the event ends.”