Boise State has a rather large—and growing—international student population. The International Student Services Department is challenging all domestic students across campus to step outside of their comfort zones, and meet some new and friendly faces.
Daria Ursol was only 15-years-old when she journeyed from Muldova (which is tucked between the Ukraine and Romania) to Wenatchee, Wash., completely by herself. She spent a year in Washington with an exchange family, then traveled back to Muldova to finish high school.
In 2010, Ursol had found her way back to Wenatchee and attended a small community college. Two years later, she transferred to Boise State to pursue a degree in Multi-Ethnic Studies with a minor in Spanish. She didn’t know a soul in Idaho when she picked Boise State, but she was awarded a great scholarship and would still be fairly close to her friends in Washington.
Ursol has an almost unnoticeable accent. Though she said her accent was very strong when she first came to America, she says she has worked very hard to increase her vocabulary. She said that when she first came to America as an exchange student, the hardest language barrier for her was slang. She would come home with some edgy words, and ask her host family what they meant. Her host family was always shocked at the words she was bringing home, and she was always shocked to find out what they meant.
Ursol made the decision to pursue her education in the states because American society fits more closely with her own personal beliefs than did Muldova society, which she describes as still very conservative. There are more opportunities for people here, and she likes the fact that we are an individualistic society, compared to the collectivist society from which she came.
“I feel very fortunate being here. I consider myself very lucky. I would definitely recommend BSU to any international student,” Ursol said.
Aziz Alfaleh is another international student at Boise State a long way from home. He is a sophomore studying information technology management. Home for Alfelah is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and his country is footing the bill for his education. He has been in America since January 2011.
The largest challenge he’s faced since being in America is dealing with what he calls “the tiny cultural differences.”
For example, Alfaleh, with his friendly smile, has easily made friends in class. But there have been times when he runs into a friend outside of class, and they barely give him a nod. At first he was offended, he later came to realize it is part of American individualist society. w In Saudi Arabia, that would be considered very rude.
Because of all of the unrest in the Middle East, Alfaleh has unfortunately been the target of unwarranted stares and a few nasty comments. He said people here are not used to foreigners. When the bombings at the Boston Marathon happened, he said he prayed for it not to be someone from the Middle East. But for the most part, his experience here has been positive.
Alfelah is also well-spoken. He said he felt very confident about his ability to speak English when he came to America.
“When it comes to language I feel more American than most Americans,” Alfelah said.
Alfelah made an interesting observation about how we handle our money as Americans. He described it as being money-driven. The example he used was from a time when he had given a fellow classmate a ride home. The classmate had told Alfelah to pull over at a gas station; that he wanted to put a few dollars of gasoline into his car for him. Alfelah laughed and said, “No, you don’t have to do that! I am just giving you a ride because I am a nice person. You don’t have to buy my gas.”
Both Ursol and Alfelah miss their families and see them very little. Ursol got to go home last summer, but it had been a year and a half since she had seen them at that point. The opportunity for her family to come to visit her here in America is slim at best.
“It’s easy for me to come and go, because I have an educational visa, but it’s more complicated for them,” Ursol said.
BLENDING IN AND MAKING FRIENDS
It isn’t always easy fitting in and making new friends. It’s not even easy for people born in America.
“You can’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Can we be friends?’ It’s just not done that way,” said Christy Babcock, associate director of International Student Services.
Language barriers are often a problem. “The challenge can come from two different sides or both sides at once,” Babcock said, whether it’s an international student who doesn’t feel comfortable yet expressing themselves in English, or a domestic student who isn’t used to conversing with someone from another country.
Together with Multi-Cultural Student Services, it shares a couple of lounges designed to bring people from every nationality and culture together. The space is meant to be a comforting place where students can hang out, study, and have group meetings. Everyone is welcome, but the center has had trouble gaining the interest of domestic students.
Babcock says the center holds a variety of events, but because they are marked as “being held by the international student services” and “being held at the diversity center,” domestic students don’t think they are welcome. That has been a huge marketing challenge for them.
Domestic students often get involved with the center for service learning credits. For example, The World Cup of Tea Program partners domestic students with international students, and credits are available. Babcock says that once they get involved, they tend to stay involved.
Also, many Christian-based groups tend to be eager to get involved, and Babcock said they just have to make sure their intentions are not to recruit new church members.
Coffee and Conversation is a group that meets every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Student Diversity Center
For international students, it’s a chance to hang out, vent frustrations, and make connections. It is informal and comfortable, with people sitting around, eating and chatting.
Coffee and Conversation typically draws between 30 to 50 students. One of the hardest challenges Babcock faces is trying to immerse international students with domestic students in a social setting. Sometimes, it’s a cultural problem in and of itself.
“You really see that with the Middle Eastern Students; they really stick together. You only have a few that really try to immerse themselves,” Babcock said. Presently, Boise State is attended by 430 Middle Eastern students. That number has doubled in the last two years.
Babcock said she would like to challenge all domestic students—to step outside their comfort zone, and openly welcome international students.
“This is a way to learn about the world without leaving your home town,” Babcock said. You are making a new friend, learning about the world, and making someone feel welcome; something Babcock describes as win/win.
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