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Experiencing International Style, Culture

To see more pictures of the 30th Annual ISO Expo and Cultural Fashion show, click here.

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From Inside USD – The University of San Diego’s deep appreciation for international culture is tried and true. Whether it’s the 16th century Spanish Renaissance-inspired architecture, immersion trips beyond the nearby U.S.-Mexico border, opportunities for all students to study abroad, or having international students here on an exchange program or as full-time undergraduate and graduate students, USD takes internationalization seriously.

On Friday night, April 24, USD’s international emphasis will remain serious, but it will be seriously fun, too. From 7-10 p.m. in the Hahn University Center Forums (ABC), USD’s large space will present the campus community with one of most enjoyable evenings of the year — the 30th annual International Expo and Cultural Fashion Show.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd and their enthusiasm toward the event,” says Claudio Trespalacios, a junior double major in business administration and environmental studies from Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. He’s president of USD’s International Student Organization (ISO), which means on Friday, he’s the event’s master of ceremonies. He’ll also enjoy the free international buffet available to all.

“I’m very excited about all of the food we’re going to have. This is one night where you can eat Italian, Mexican and German food at the same time in the same place. It’s great!”

Many come for the delicious food, but be sure to stay and enjoy a wonderful, energized evening of entertainment courtesy of international music performers and the student fashion show. During the latter, USD students, many representing their home country, take pride in modeling native fashions on the runway.

“It’s my first time to walk in the fashion show so I’m really excited to represent Syria,” says Katherine Saado, a junior international business major who was born and raised in Dubai, but is half Syrian and half Filipino.

Saado said the chance to wear, with pride, Syrian clothing, is extra special given the current state of affairs there.

“These past few years have been huge devastation and whirlwind for my family and I. We have our relatives in Syria who we’ve worried about every day since the war. Syria will get the peace it needs, at least that’s what I’m hoping for. … So, with everything going on in Syria and the bad news we hear every day, it will be nice to celebrate the country on a more light and happy occasion at the Expo. It’s one night where we all celebrate our pride and belonging to our countries and constant hope for the better in our struggling countries.”

Oftentimes, international and American students model by wearing the fashion of a different country from their own. It’s a chance to gain a new perspective and show appreciation for another’s culture in a public setting.

This event annually brings out the best in USD alumnus, Greg Grassi, who earned psychology and Spanish degrees in 1999. These days, Grassi is the associate director for the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) and ISO adviser.

“This event shows that internationalization has been on the radar at USD for a long time,” says Grassi, noting the event’s milestone year. “This will be my seventh Expo as ISO adviser and, even in that time, I have so many great memories of the show from dynamic performances to students proudly representing their countries.”

Grassi’s longtime appreciation for the event includes being an annual model participant (pictured, right). He’s represented Afghanistan, Japan and Kuwait in the past.

“I will be modeling for Morocco,” he says. “I’m fulfilling a promise to an exchange student from last year. She recently sent me the clothing from Morocco.”

The inclusive and diverse representation — more than 30 countries will be showcased on stage — is a testament to the international students who attend USD.

Trespalacios said the initial transition from his small town near Mexico City to San Diego and the Southern California lifestyle was a big change, but he’s settled in now: “It takes some time to adjust to the culture, but USD is a very welcoming community and there are incredible resources for international students at the International Office (Serra Hall 315), so the transition is not as bad. It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime experience so I try to get full advantage of all of what USD offers.”

Trespalacios’ ISO presidency is a great leadership opportunity. “One of my favorite experiences has been to serve on the International (Student) Welcome team at orientation. It was a week full of craziness and a lot of work, but helping other international students with this important transition is very satisfying. Plus, you get to meet an incredible amount of people you would never imagine you’d meet.”

Saado adjusted well to USD, too, through her immediate connection to ISO.

“I hadn’t realized how huge the ISO was until I attended all of the events planned out for the freshmen. As a freshman coming from really far away, you definitely come in with all of these concerns and fears of blending in. But ISO is where I met most of my friends and you gain confidence from meeting people from all other organizations on campus. Growing up in a very diversified country like Dubai and having parents from different countries, it brought me to just understanding and appreciating so many other cultures. All of my friends now are just so international. I love it.”

She thoroughly enjoyed a study abroad trip to Paris — “my experience studying abroad was beyond what words can express,” — to complete a French minor requirement.

And like study abroad, Friday provides the entire campus community with a sample of international culture all without leaving campus. One can meet new people, taste different foods, hear new music and see traditional and beautiful fashions.

“It’s a chance to honor our international student population and to show that we value the contributions of our international community,” says Grassi. “Plus,” he adds tongue-in-cheek, “I think students just enjoy seeing what I’ll wear each year.”

Get ready for a fun evening, Toreros — international style!

— Ryan T. Blystone