When 10-year-old Giao Nguyen entered Glen Forest Elementary School last Thursday night, he found that the gymnasium had been transformed by numerous flags, dishes of food, and colorful native costumes of more than 40 nations. It was the school's annual International Night.

Nguyen turned to his friend and fellow sixth grader, Nicolai Creatore, and observed: "This is a funky night."

Two tables away, Nguyen's mother was busy chatting and serving fairgoers her version of a typical sweet dish of their native country, Vietnam. She wore an embroidered spray of flowers on one shoulder of her Vietnamese dress. Mrs. Nguyen came to the fair to take "the opportunity to meet everybody in a small world," she said. "I enjoy meeting people of other cultures."

The Nguyens were one of more than 150 families who participated in the public school's potluck dinner and fashion show. At a school where more than half of the students come from other nations or are children of foreign-born parents, international awareness is something most families have in common.

Tabletops crowded with an assortment of dishes -- from Mexican hot tamales to sambus from Somalia -- and the distinctive costumes worn by many students and some parents were testimony to the school's unusual ethnic mix. The overall elementary school enrollment in Fairfax County averages 75.8 percent non-Hispanic white. At Glen Forest, 41 percent are non-Hispanic white, 24.7 percent are black, 16.6 percent are Asian and 16.9 percent are Hispanic.

Glen Forest draws students from Baileys Crossroads and Seven Corners, one of the most densely populated areas of Fairfax County. The students' parents are employed in jobs that range from domestic work to the diplomatic service.

Most of the 60 children who participated in the fashion show wore costumes of countries where they or their parents were born. The nations represented by the most costumes were India and Pakistan.

The fashion show participants "were very anxious to be in this," said music teacher Debra Lindsay, who coordinated the show. "They were not at all ashamed to be classified as different. We push that at Glen Forest -- don't be ashamed of where you come from," she said.

During the show, children walked with confidence across the stage, improvised dance moves, and made careful turns. Others, avoiding looking at the audience, bowed quickly at one corner of the platform.

Lindsay pointed out to the audience some of the handwork, history and notable features of each costume. One boy wore a costume that was sent for the occasion from his grandparent in Africa. Others wore apparel that their parents made. An Iranian girl wore a homemade skirt with bottle caps edging the hem, and when she twirled, her skirt jingled.

At the end of the evening, a Korean woman, an Egyptian woman and several other parents in their native dress also mounted the stage, encouraged by the other members of the audience. The student participants then sang a Lebanese children's song in English that a Lebanese parent had taught them.

"It is fun to work at Glen Forest," said Lindsay, "because nowhere else do you get children from so many different countries, and I feel like you learn a lot from children like that."

Lindsay said she enjoys teaching at the school because "everything's different. {The students} have different problems. They come from whole different environments. They can teach me probably more than I could ever teach them."

Ron Pemberton, who lived in Arlington five years before moving to Fairfax, has two children enrolled in Glen Forest. When considering schools for their children, he and his wife "looked for a cross-mixture of kids from all ethnic backgrounds, which is a real world aspect."