Crash courses help international students adapt

Approximately 30 graduate students attended a “cross-cultural competency” workshop Friday.

by Nathan Hall

Historical scholars often refer to the United States as “the great experiment” – a melting pot combining hundreds of widely disparate societies into one ever-evolving and largely indefinable U.S. culture.

Earlier this month, thousands of international students from all over the globe added themselves to that melting pot as they arrived to study at the University campus.

One international student wanted to know where he could sample a Krispy Kreme donut, while others wanted to know how to find someone to talk with after class or how to deal with racism.

With all these questions, at least 50 international students signed up for some informal crash courses on how to better integrate themselves into the sometimes puzzling Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Approximately 24 students participated in a trip to the Mall of America on Wednesday, sponsored by the University’s Minnesota International Student Association.

On Friday, approximately 30 graduate students attended a “cross-cultural competency” workshop and discussion at McGrath Library, sponsored by the University’s Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars.

Sulieman Nader, the Minnesota International Student Association president, said the mall trip worked to break down stereotypes of Americans.

“Most people like to go to malls, so this is a good way for the international students to interact with one another, relieve tensions and lose some inhibitions,” Nader said. “It’s a subtle icebreaker that shows them aspects of Minnesota and America and each other that they might not normally see otherwise.”

Students were also encouraged to attend “College Night,” a promotional event at the Apple Store that evening.

After a half-hour sales pitch from computer salesmen, one student won a portable MP3 player in a drawing held by the store.

Vladimyr Gidzak, a senior and technology teaching assistant from Winnipeg, Canada, said he enjoyed visiting the Mall of America but said the substantially larger West Edmonton Mall in Canada was “much better.”

Gidzak said, however, that he has an overall positive view of the United States so far.

“We make some jokes, but most Canadians have pretty good relationships with Americans,” Gidzak said. “I did notice that I keep running into people lately who really want to emigrate to Canada for some reason.”

On Friday at McGrath Library, graduate students nibbled on mooncake, a Chinese delicacy consisting of egg and bean paste, while participating in the cross-cultural competency workshop and discussion.

The event was conducted primarily in Chinese, but English translators were provided.

The 3-hour talk covered basics of Chinese/American cultural differences, including a presentation on how to make friends with Americans.

Conference facilitators said Americans typically favor individualistic values that starkly contrast with China’s collective-based virtues.

Workshop leaders said there are significant variations in communication styles – U.S. residents speak in a straightforward, direct manner as opposed to the routine use of subtle suggestion by Chinese.

Students were also given tips on how to handle teaching in a more laid-back classroom, and were briefed on routine social courtesies such as giving other people personal space.

However, the roundtable dialogue also addressed how to define plagiarism, to tactfully debate politics and to combat discrimination.

“There are unfortunately some really awful, mean and very bad people out there, but the point is that you can’t let that discourage you,” said Holly Emert, a University research assistant who helped lead the teach-in. “You have to keep trying and eventually it will get better.”