FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Without even packing a bag, more than 1,200 members of the Fort Leonard Wood community were able to wander around the world Friday inside Nutter Field House as they made their way between 41 booths, each representing a different country.
At the 21st Know Your World event, hosted by the International Military Student Office, international students decorated booths dedicated to their home countries to share their cultural pride, music, informational displays and even traditional food with guests.
At the door, adults were given passports with questions to answer, and inside the passports for children were flags to find and identify, as they made their way around the different tables.
Anne Gasway brought her 11-year-old son to the event. She said they wanted to attend because they are both, “very curious about other cultures.”
She spent several minutes talking to 2nd Lt. Misech Kendino at his display about Papua New Guinea.
“I have had a fascination with Papua New Guinea since I was his age (referring to her 11-year-old),” Gasway said. “Their culture is so very interesting to me.”
She said the best part was getting to try the food Kendino had prepared.
“I got to eat his mom’s family recipe. I mean that is just awesome,” Gasway said.
One new thing she said she learned at the event was that Papua New Guinea has more than 20 provinces and they are all unique.
“I learned that cultures are distinct on each province. He said each province has their own special culture,” Gasway said.
She said events like this are important because it allows people of different backgrounds to get to know more about each other and appreciate one another more.
“We all need to be a little bit nicer to each other,” she added.
Capt. Shakeel Ahmed, from Pakistan, said this is his first time in America and he has been here for about three months to attend the U.S. Army Engineer Captains Career Course.
“America is amazing. It is the best. When I landed here, I learned the reason. The people — the American people make it the best,” Ahmed said.
He brought some Nimko, a snack usually served with tea, and made some traditional spicy street food and desserts for the visitors of his booth to sample.
“I hope they like it very much,” Ahmed said. “This is an honor for me to display my country here. I very much want to represent it in a good way. I want people to know Pakistan is a good country.”
Maj. Mohammad Elturshan, from Jordan, is also here for the Engineer CCC. He said he has been to America many times, but this is his first time in Missouri.
“I like the people here very much, but the weather is so humid,” Elturshan said with a chuckle.
At his booth, he had prepared several treats for visitors to try, including Mansaf, a lamb dish; Maqluba, a dish made from chicken, rice and fried vegetables; and a few desserts like Baklava, a multi-layer sweet pastry.
He said events like Know Your World are important for the community because it allows people from all over the world to interact, learn and ask questions.
“I think it is important for the community to know our traditions. I have learned so much in America. It feels good to be able to help Americans learn about other countries here,” Elturshan said.
There were also three booths set up by international spouses of U.S. service members from the countries of Poland, the Philippines and Germany.
One of those spouses, Daria Lukomska, met her husband while he was in Poland. She said she has been in America for just over a year.
“It was scary to leave Poland because I had never been abroad. I love it here now. I am very happy,” Lukomska said. “The people are so friendly here. People are always smiling and asking me how I am doing. It is nice. I like to talk to people.”
She said she decided to set up a booth about Poland to educate the community about her beloved homeland and how it is connected to her new home in Fort Leonard Wood, located in Pulaski County.
“A lot of people don’t know that Pulaski from Pulaski County was Polish. It is very important to me to show these people,” she said.
Pulaski County was named after Kazimierz Pułaski, a Polish patriot who died fighting in the American Revolution.
She said the best thing about the event was getting to meet new people from all over the world, learn about their cultures and make some new friends.
“This is awesome. I have talked to people from all over the world tonight,” Lukomska said. “Today, I met a lot of Polish people and I am very happy about it.”
Marine Sgt. Shawn Romano, an instructor at the Fort Leonard Wood Marine Corps Detachment’s Engineer Equipment Instruction Company, said he brought his family to the event to, “get the kids out of the house for some family fun.”
He said many service members have the opportunity to travel for work, but events like this are valuable because so many countries are represented that many in attendance may not have had the chance to visit — and they can bring their family along for the adventure.
“If I am still stationed here next year, I want to come back to this event,” Romano said.
More photos from this year's Know Your World event are available to view and download on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page.