The Global Engagement Office held its first-ever virtual WorldFest Days this year, bringing together globally oriented groups from across campus and in the Missoula community to host events focused on promoting global awareness. 

Camryn Vaughn, a UM senior and intern with the English Language Initiative this year, helped to plan the events of WorldFest Days, alongside colleagues at the Global Engagement Office. 

“I know that with the lack of physical travel, it can be kind of discouraging for people to think that they can still have an international experience, but there’s still so many options,” Vaughn said. “Not even just virtual meetings with people abroad, but also connecting with international people who are currently in Missoula.” 

Typically in April, the Global Engagement Office holds an in-person International Festival in the University Center to promote and connect internationally oriented groups. Due to COVID-19 this year, the Global Engagement Office has rebranded to WorldFest Days, a mostly virtual weekend series of events connected to the same purpose of promoting international engagement. 

“Trying to move that online has been no easy feat, but if you look at all the different variety of programs and contributors we have, I think we really got a well-rounded showcase,” Vaughn said.

According to the Global Engagement Office website, “WorldFest Days’ goal is to promote intercultural and global awareness, appreciation, and to connect the residents of Montana, the UM community, and our international partners with one another.”

The weekend consisted of presentations from organizations like the Peace Corps, virtual cooking courses, performances and storytelling recordings — all of them aimed at creating global connections.

WorldFest Days brought together many such groups, working to build international connections in Missoula to discuss international engagement. The keynote presentation of WorldFest Days, entitled “Engaging Community in Internationalism,” featured voices from the Montana Executive World Affairs Council, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, Arts Missoula, the Franke Global Leadership Initiative and the Montana World Trade Center, in addition to UM’s Global Engagement Office.

“Montana students at all levels are preparing to enter an unparalleled era of global engagement where their ability to understand and shape our world will determine their and our collective futures,” Chris Hyslop, a representative of the Montana Executive World Affairs Council, said at the keynote address.

He added that in Montana, many international and transnational issues are present and are things people care about. Kelsey Stamm-Jimenez of the  Mansfield Center, emphasized that former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield’s life showcases how those from Montana absolutely have the ability to be engaged in international issues. Mansfield, the longest-serving Senate majority leader, rose out of the Butte copper mining industry and was named ambassador to Japan following his time in the Senate.

As of April 7, the keynote address featuring these groups had at least 60 people registered. Vaughn said that, because of the virtual nature of the events, it is difficult to determine exactly how many people attended the WorldFest events. She mentioned that registrants were not limited to one participant per registration, meaning multiple people could watch events from one device. According to Vaughn, some of the registrations had up to 20 names attached to them.

Vaughn also added that doing WorldFest Days virtually has allowed for international connections, with alumni of former programs from the Global Engagement Office signing up to tune in to some of the virtual events in their home countries. 

“It’s like a new level of outreach,” Vaughn said. “We can get people globally to engage with us because we have this virtual component that we haven’t had before.” 

Vaughn added that the virtual component to WorldFest Days could translate to the future as well, because of the opportunities it offers to engage international students at home.