UMN students bridge cultural dating gaps

International and domestic students convened for a night of games, cultural diversity and community.

Students mingle at Small World Coffee Hour’s Dating in Different Cultures event at the University International Center on Friday, Feb. 14. The event included presentations about love and dating, world cultures and opportunities for attendees to win prizes and build community.

Andy Kosier

Students mingle at Small World Coffee Hour’s Dating in Different Cultures event at the University International Center on Friday, Feb. 14. The event included presentations about love and dating, world cultures and opportunities for attendees to win prizes and build community.

Parker Toyne

Dozens of University of Minnesota students gathered Friday to learn about the cultural norms of dating practices in Indonesia and Vietnam.

Small World Coffee Hour hosted the event that provided a welcoming atmosphere and a platform for students to mingle and enjoy authentic cuisine. The group has held this event every Valentine’s Day for more than 25 years. Representatives from the Indonesian Student Association and the Vietnamese International Student Association gave presentations on their countries’ dating traditions.

“I’m an international student from Vietnam and when I came to the States I realized there are a lot of norms that are different. It’s really nice that we can speak up and tell people ‘These are our norms,’” said Khoa Le, a finance major and treasurer of VISA. “Sometimes international students have a hard time expressing themselves because of the different norms and practices in different countries.”

Providing a safe space for students to educate and learn about different cultures is one of the driving purposes behind SWCH hosting this event. According to Edward Jao, a member of SWCH, creating an atmosphere in which students of all different backgrounds can express themselves is key to creating new connections.

“We are trying to give international and domestic students the opportunity to build connections between each other and make friends if they’re lucky enough. Sometimes making friends is not easy,” Jao said . 

Eunyeong Ju, who helped organize the event to bring the groups together, agreed that building connections between international and domestic students is an essential goal. 

“We are providing them a friendly space to get them involved together. We are doing this by providing an authentic experience from different countries,” Ju said.

Ethan Yao, an ISA representative, said he hopes to break down the barriers of stereotypes that can surround dating cultures. 

“We’re trying to break stereotypes so that people don’t get the wrong idea of what dating in Asia or Indonesia is like. We also wanted to tell people how dating and relationships differ between countries.”

For some international students who attended, the benefit of being able to interact with other students whose backgrounds differ from theirs provided them the perfect opportunity to practice socializing. 

“I wanted to go to this multicultural event so I can practice my English and learn how to better engage in social activities. It’s very practical for me because I’m in business school and I’m going to teach in the future,” said business major Nathaniel Sugijanto. 

Moving forward, SWCH hopes to continue creating and facilitating safe spaces for international and domestic students. Bringing students together through authentic cultural events will continue to be at the forefront of their mission. 

“If students feel isolated in a different environment, we are trying to make them feel like they are all apart of the same environment,” said Jao.