Spin the Globe
I picked the International Conversation hour because of my desire to travel. One of my favorite things to do as a child was sit in front of the globe we own, close my eyes, spin it, and drag my finger across the smooth surface until it slowed to a stop. I would then open my eyes and wherever my finger landed that’s where I told myself I would go.
Occasionally I had to cheat because, inevitably, my finger would land in the middle of the ocean. That intrigue and that wonder is something that I carried, and still carry, to this day. I want to know about anything that’s not the United States but, like most people, I don’t actively seek out more knowledge on the matter. To be perfectly honest, I am rather naïve when it comes to other cultures and countries.
Going into this I was a little nervous due to the positions I held. I am a white female who’s never been outside the South, let alone the United States. I do not speak any other languages, except for basic Spanish, and I haven’t been on a study abroad trip. The only thing that really put me “in with the crowd” was the fact that I am a Georgia Southern student, just like them.
I had had one previous encounter with some of the International students, when I volunteered at the International Festival. While there I was able to have a nice conversation with a girl from Nigeria (whose name I promptly forgot once told). She was the first person to tell me about the conversation hour. The way she explained it was reminiscent of a lecture or discussion with the added benefit of food. I was intrigued but never actually went. Every one of the students I met at the festival was friendly and easy to talk to, so I would have never guessed that they might have issues making friends or fitting in; to me they were just fellow students with a different accent than me.
My first visit
The International Conversation hour is held in the Russell Union ballroom, a room that is extremely versatile and a place where every student has been at least once. It’s used for dance practice, award ceremonies, meetings, and any other uses that a large group may need it for. Normally the room feels hollow; when the Center for International Studies utilizes the room though, it takes on an air of comfort and openness, an abnormal feeling to have when walking into a room full of strangers. The walls are two toned. The bottom half of the walls are an olive green and the top half of the walls are a cream color. These walls are complimented by the burgundy, green, and pink carpeting. The carpet is sectioned off in squares that are outlined by green, leafy vines with pink streaks inside the squares. The room is also large and spacious, housing three rectangular tables and twenty round tables. The round tables allocate room for about eight or nine people to sit there. The rectangle tables have three different jobs. The first table is on your immediate left as you walk through the door and holds up a threefold poster board listing the upcoming events that the Center for International Studies is throwing as well as a list of volunteer opportunities that the students can sign up for. The second table is along the left hand wall facing the visitors and holds all the food, plates, napkins, and silverware. The third table is directly across from the door you enter from and holds the drinks.
After getting your food or drink you just pick a table and sit. After observing the room a few times I found that most of the tables were full of people and those that were not had less than two or three people seated at them. Even those tables normally collected more people as time went on. If there were any tables left over they were just left empty. The conversation in the room was reminiscent to that of a restaurant. The tempo of the conversation rises and falls throughout the hour. All around you can hear laughter, smell the food, and see the hand motions and smiles during each conversation. Initially I was nervous; I tend to be rather shy and distant when I surround myself with people I don’t know. I have an easier time observing the people rather than interacting with them. After leaving the first conversation I realized that many other students, especially those from other countries, may have the same kind of issue. They might be shy. They might not know what to talk about. Some of the things that did surprise me were how easily everyone interacted. It was obvious that many people knew each other and were very comfortable with each other but at the same time they were very open to new people coming to talk to them.
Getting the inside scoop.
I interviewed one of the faculty members that helps run the program and asked her many questions about the experiences and problems international students face. Her perspective was a little different than what I had observed in the International Conversation hour. She told me that students do tend to feel isolated and will clique together with other international students from their country. However, the programs that the Center for International Students holds, especially the International conversation hour, do help with the integration of international students. This surprised me because my experience in the International Conversation hour had shown me how easily everyone seemed to integrate and get along. After some reflection I realized that it was most likely that way because of the kind of program that the students were attending. It would, logically, be easier to interact with other students if you have common ground to discuss, or have the same purpose of being there. I really enjoyed going to these conversation hours and I enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say. It was obvious that the faculty truly cared about what they were doing and worked hard to make the transition as easy as possible for the international students.
Obvious problems international students face.
The excerpt from the article “Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination” best sums up why international studies are being so heavily pushed. There are multiple documents, books, and articles pushing the expansion of students studying outside their countries and they all basically say, “Without question, as international students study in American institutions they provide many benefits for the U.S. They increase diversity of student populations, add new perspectives to classroom conversation, and, related, increase our awareness and appreciation for other countries and cultures” (Quoted in Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination, p.381).
However, upon further research I discovered many articles on the problems international students face when coming to America to study abroad, namely making friends with other students on campus. In fact, in an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education a study showed that “More than one in three foreign students… say they have no close U.S. friends.” The article further discussed the statement and said that location, the region of the world the student is from, and internal factors all had a part in the struggle to make friends. The study showed that international students were happier with their amount of American friends in smaller southern cities. It also showed that students from English speaking countries fared better than those from, for instance, East Asia.
Other than the struggle for international students to make friends they have a hard time with other aspects of the trip as well. Things such as culture shock and changing their norms are just a couple of examples. Because of these more pressing matters there are organizations set in place on colleges campuses. Georgia Southern has its own Center for International Studies that helps with the transition of being a student here, whether they stay for a semester or four years.
After looking up outside information on international students and how they feel when arriving here I was under the impression that most international students would have this problem of integration. I figured that when I talked to them I would get some of the same responses, “Yes, making friends here is hard,” “Americans aren’t friendly at all,” and “I wish I had more American friends.” However, after going to the conversation hour and interviewing a student I found that this was not the case at all. The student I interviewed goes by Mike. He’s an engineering student from Burkina Faso in Africa and he absolutely loves it here. When I asked him about his first impression of Americans, he replied with, “Americans are very friendly, not like the French, the French are very rude.” He went on to say that he hasn’t had any issues making friends here and that the international conversation hour did help him interact with new students, even though he doesn’t have any issue talking to people. After my interview with him I walked away with a new perspective on the life of an international student. It seemed to me that there was a disconnect with what I had found doing outside research and what I had seen/heard at the conversation hour.
What price do international students pay?
Anyone who has ever shown any interest in study abroad, or even looked up some information about such a program, knows that it can be expensive and that there are even more costs aside from the price of the program. However, we don’t take into account students who come to America without a proficiency in English. For example, the international student I interviewed, Mike, told me that before he could start his studies, he had to go through the English Language program to learn English. It’s a year long program and they have to pay around five thousand dollars for the program if it’s in the summer, and around ten thousand if it’s in a regular semester. It does include food, housing, tuition and fees, but for some countries it’s an even bigger deal than Americans would think. For example in Burkina Faso, which is the home country of Mike, the currency ratio is 472.63 CFA for every U.S dollar. So, spending five thousand American dollars is the equivalent of spending 2,363,153.95 CFA. When I was initially told this information I was completely blown away. I was shocked. I couldn’t wrap my head around the thought of spending that much money on an education and I also had a hard time imagining the kind of stress that must put on him and his family.
During my interview with Angie Threatte she told me that almost every international student has to work just to be able to live here. It made sense at the time but I simply thought the reason was because they didn’t have their parents a few hours away to just deposit money in their account. These students have to work just to be able to pay for their schooling, room and board, and food, on top of any other expenses they may have. I know there are plenty of American students that are in the same boat, but it was always my assumption that any student that studies abroad was well off enough that they could afford to just pay the schooling fees and study. After being told how hard it can be on the international students, my perspective changed instantly.
After being around the international students, faculty and after visiting the conversation hour I came to realize that there is nothing different about international students and American students. There seems to be a lot of apprehension concerning the relationships between students, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, we’re students. We all have families; hobbies, likes, dislikes, and we all deal with things that cause us stress. We may have different backgrounds and there may be a language barrier but people are people. This apprehension that international students won’t be able, or will have a hard time, making friends is not as pressing an issue as some people make it out to be. During my research, I found one thing that isn’t always brought to light: the cost of studying abroad.
It’s easy to imagine that going to a completely different country and being across an ocean from your family will cause some added stress to your life as a college student. But, we as regular American students don’t think about the sacrifices some of the international students and their families make, in order for their son or daughter to get the best education they can. A lot of these students come from poorer countries whose economies are not as stable as ours. They come over to get as good an education as they can, and either stay for a few years to build up some money or go straight back to try and help their people. I was told by Angie Threatte that some of the most common majors are health care professions and engineering. She went on further and explained that those majors are needed more often in other countries and that students who go through the health care schooling tend to want to try and make a difference in the health of their countries’ people. In America, you see people going to college because they feel that a degree is the only way to get a job.
Mark Twain said it best in his quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s life.” The Center for International Studies is there because, as Angie Threatt said, they want to “bring international and American students together to bring down cultural barriers and form friendships; improve global citizens; make students more culturally aware and become better people and more informed people.” If people can be more globally aware then the relationships between countries could improve. Besides that, having global relations improves different fields of studies. Some countries are more advanced in writing, or mathematics, sciences, and history. Some are better at architecture, crafts, or growing foods. We have to rely on each other, as a unit, to keep our economies going. No economy is completely self-sufficient. With that being said, we have to be knowledgeable of each other’s countries just to be able to coexist. If you live your life being completely naïve, and have a narrow view of other countries, then you will never grow as a person. That is what the international students experience whenever they come to American campuses. Even with all the stressors that come with studying abroad, the students are welcomed with open arms. They have faculty and students that are there to assist them, in whatever they may need. They have students who are eager and interested in hearing about their countries, even if they have no clue where the country is located. There are programs set in place on campus, such as the International Conversation hour, whose sole purpose is to help the transition of adjusting to American school and culture.
Center for International Studies. Georgia Southern University. 14 March 2014. Web
Fischer, Karen. “Many Foreign Students are Friendless in the U.S, Study Finds.” The Chronicle
Of Higher Education. 14 June 2012. Web.
Foo-Kune, Herlina, Natacha, Pranata, and Rodolfa. International Students: Their Transition to
The United States.” 14 March 2014. Web
Lee, Jenny and Rice, Charles. “Welcome to America? International student perceptions of
discrimination.” Higher Education 53 (2007): 381-409. Galileo. 27 May 2009. Web.
NAFSA, Association of International Educators in America’s Interest: Welcoming International
Students. Washington D.C. (2003). Jan 2003. Print