Creating Community... With Coffee

Coffee with a map of the world.
Rebecca A. Eckland

If you’re not doing anything next Wednesday, Sept. 9, grab a cup of coffee before you travel to Spain with TMCC’s Nevada Promise Scholarship Coordinator, Angela South, who will share her experiences as an exchange student in Madrid. South was a first-generation student who earned her bachelor’s degree at UNR where she had the opportunity to complete an exchange through USAC, which fostered her love of Spanish people, culture and pasatiempos (hobbies). South’s presentation will also highlight the importance of cultural awareness. 

The International Coffee Hour series is a space where, as writer Christina Baldwin remarks, the power of narrative-driven experiences is able to hold who we are individually in the context of who we are collectively. “Story creates the possibility of reconnection,” she writes, “...something that sparks between us, [making us] smile or cry with recognition—not out of sentimentality—but out of commonality.”

The series, which was typically a highlight of campus life at Dandini, will move to a virtual space this semester but promises to bring the same community-casual vibe and opportunity for presenters to share their stories—and connect—with interested audiences.

 “The series is really a testament to how ‘TMCC is community.’  This event has always enabled us to come together and everyone is always really interested in connecting with our presenters and sharing their stories about their experiences of other cultures,” said International Student Advisor and Event Organizer Virag Nikolics. 

International Peer Mentor Valeria Saborio, who also assists with the event organization and planning, said the event is her favorite at TMCC.  “I feel like I’m going on a trip around the world, learning from all these countries from my local perspective. It doesn’t feel like a lecture. Instead, it feels like you’re having a cup of coffee with this person and they are telling you all about their experience.” 

While there are some definite changes (the event will not be held in the DISCO, and there will obviously be no food), Nikolics asks that participants help to preserve the “feel” of this series by bringing their favorite coffee mug and sitting in a comfortable spot to listen to stories that will take you around the world and connect you to TMCC’s community… right from the comfort of your own home. 

Virtual Community Spaces

As most of us continue to work remotely, the desire to re-connect with others—albeit by Zoom—is stronger than ever. Nikolics said students and staff were excited to share their stories in this online format this semester, and she had no trouble scheduling presenters.  

The line-up for Fall 2020 includes presentations from TMCC faculty, staff, and students that feature experiences from Spain, Argentina, France, Romania, South Africa, Peru, Uzbekistan, and Samoa.  TMCC Marketing Coordinator Candice Vialpando, who will present her home country of South Africa on Oct. 20, said she will focus on her memories of growing up in Johannesburg, the country’s biggest city and capital of the Gauteng Province.  Her focus will include, South African game parks/refuges, the thirteen local languages, and the incredible diversity of the country, which is why South Africa is called “The Rainbow Nation.”

Among her memories growing up include watching elephants approach the watering hole near her school. “You would see the elephants come and drink in the watering hole we called the ‘Bullfrog pan’, which was near the sport fields,’” she remembered. 

Vialpando and colleagues with an elephant

Vialpando stands beside an elephant at one of the many wildlife refuges where she volunteered her time.

Vialpando also had several close-up encounters with these animals thanks to her volunteer work with wildlife refuges in South Africa. “The coolest thing ever—I was kissed by an elephant,” she said, when recounting her experience working at a wildlife refuge for elephants and rhinoceros. 

She explained that these animals often end up in wildlife refuges when their parents are victims of illegal poaching. She, like many South Africans, values the magnificent flora and fauna of her home country. In fact, she continues to donate to rescue and refuge organizations that rehabilitate these animals so they can be released into the wild. 

Zoom Into International Coffee Hour

If you haven’t ever been to an International Coffee Hour, this unique moment might present the perfect opportunity to attend. You won’t have to battle parking at the Dandini Campus—or really any commute time to speak of—and you’re guaranteed a front-row seat. 

“I hope to reach more people or different people because the event is happening virtually,” said Nikolics. “That’s the exciting part about hosting the event in this virtual space.” 

Nikolics and Saborio each commented on the diverse line-up of this semester, both in terms of geography and the wide demographic of the presenters themselves. “I’m really excited to see the three international student presenters,” said Saborio. Sevara Tashkhanova, who is an international student from Uzbekistan, will present her home country on Nov. 17. Tashkhanova participated as a dancer in last year’s International Symposium, and both Nikolics and Saborio are thrilled that she is participating in this semester’s International Coffee Hour. “Her way of connecting with us was through the DISCO,” Nikolics said. “I’m really excited for her to share her story.”  

On Sept. 22, TMCC Foreign Language Professor Elena Atanasiu will share one of her passions for the tango. Atanasiu rekindled her love of dance when, after receiving her Ph.D in Latin American studies from UC Davis, she lived in Argentina and Chile. “I learned to dance tango in Santiago de Chile—that connected me to my love of dancing, which I never pursued,” she said. When Atanasiu returned to the United States, she moved to Reno where, along with a fellow tango enthusiast Julia Auzmendi (who will present with Atanasiu) she founded the Reno Tango Collective, a community-based group which, prior to COVID-19, met at Craft in Midtown to share their love of this unique dance with others. 

Atanasiu and companion perform tango.

Atanasiu danced tango with the Reno Tango Collective, a community group she helped to found.
(Image taken pre-COVID-19.)

Atanasiu’s presentation “The Infamous Origins of Tango” traces the wide-ranging history and geography of that particular dance that stepped between Buenos Aires and Paris.  Atanasiu’s presentation will utilize Google Maps to tell the story of tango using current and historic images. As Atanasiu notes, we can’t travel now, but through this presentation, participants will get a richer sense of these places, and this particular dance that expresses a unique energy and tension. 

After all, in tango, there is no choreography.  It is a dance comprised of silent, nonverbal communication that is exchanged between two bodies. It is a dance that Atanasiu believes articulates what’s missing in our COVID-19 world. “Sometimes in this country, people can be scared to let others into their personal space. I feel that tango—at least in the communities I’ve danced with—all these people have an amazing, positive energy. They have a great passion and love for tango. And they just let you get into that moment, and to transmit that positive energy, and you receive that positive energy and there is this exchange of humanity. I just think with COVID, we have all come to realize that we’re in need of that human interaction and human touch,” she said.

Dance, Atanasiu said, can be a window into people and culture. “One of the best experiences in life is being about to dance and to be able to experience music and culture,” Atanasiu said.

So no matter where you are this semester, attending one or all of the virtual International Coffee Hour events is a great way to catch a glimpse of other places, people, possibilities and passions. At the very least, joining a presentation with your favorite cup of coffee is bound to make you feel a part of the TMCC community in a deep and meaningful way. 

International Coffee Hour 2020 Fall Schedule

For more information about International Coffee Hour, check out their Facebook page or contact TMCC’s   International Student Services at 775-337-5605.