A Conglomeration of Cultures at the Odyssey of the Mind International Festival


Odyssey of the Mind participants celebrate the Opening Ceremonies on May 23, 2018. 

Andrea Dahl

The midday sun beat against the pavement, making a hot and humid trip for eager students and coaches walking to Lied Recreation Center. Instead of walking in competition, however, the students walked shoulder-to-shoulder in celebration.

The Odyssey of the Mind International Festival, held Saturday morning, was an opportunity for competitors to experience and engage with people from different cultures across the world.

While the purpose is to share cultures and traditions with other teams, the festival also gives competitors a chance to raise money for their team’s expenses. Students and coaches could purchase an assortment of items dispersed on tables, from balsa wood fans from China to roasted seaweed from South Korea.

“Try it, try it,” said Royce Young Hyum Baek, South Korean Odyssey coach, as he offered seaweed samples to competitors swarming his table.

Thin and brittle, the edible seaweed, known in Korean tradition as “gim,” is a salty snack that melts in your mouth.

“We use it as a side dish,” said Iluda Ko, senior at Ames High School and translator for the South Korean booth.

Among the seaweed, items for sale included traditional postcards and korean art pieces handmade with sea shells.

Walking to Poland’s booth was a challenge, as competitors flocked to the three-table long stand, adorned with Poland’s red and white flag and t-shirts from past competitions.

“It’s so beautiful here,” said Angelika Urban, Odyssey competitor from Gdansk, Poland. Excited to be in competing in Ames for her second time, Urban says before traveling home, she plans to sightsee with her team.

“After the competition, we’ll travel to New York on holiday,” Urban said.

Among competitors traveling from table to table at the festival, the most popular souvenirs purchased were pins.

Lau Po Wa, competitor from Hong Kong, said her favorite item her team was selling was Hong Kong’s Odyssey of the Mind pin.

“This pin is my favorite, because it says ‘Odyssey of the Mind’ in our language and is decorated with traditional Hong Kong food, like the curry fish bowl, the egg tart and milk tea,” Po Wa said.

Po Wa says the pink dolphin also found on the pin is a famous marine creature in Hong Kong’s waters.

Items found on Mexico’s table included handmade dolls, bracelets, traditional Mexican serape blankets and alebrijes.

“Alebrijes are sculptures of spirit animals,” said Mariana Gavza, competitor from Monterrey, Mexico.

Featured in the 2017 Disney Pixar film “Coco,” the brightly colored sculptures are mythical creatures, and one of the most popular sculptures is the Pegasus.

With tables from other countries like Switzerland, Togo, Canada and India, exploring the festival was a captivating experience for many students.

“It’s cool to see the different cultures coming together in one place,” said Olivia Johnson, eighth-grade competitor from Lincoln Charter School in North Carolina. “[The diversity] makes it fun and worth competing.”