Getting to Know Our Global Neighbors

Friday, March 11, 2016 Getting to Know Our Global Neighbors

Global Leadership Retreat multicultural hands with globe
Ensuring International Student Success

Our students come from all backgrounds and walks of life, but one group with a most unique perspective is international students. Hailing from 129 countries, these students enrich the UNL community with an array of languages, variety of cultural experiences and diverse views.

To help these students succeed in their academic pursuits, Student Affairs provides numerous programs and services designed specifically for international students. From serving a warm meal to welcome the students to assisting with tax preparation and planning cultural education and social networking events, our departments work to create an inclusive environment where international students feel they matter.

An Inclusive Campus

When a student first enters campus as an undergraduate international student, he or she commonly lives on campus in our residence hall community. Because of the diverse student body:

  • Housing provides a welcome video in six different languages.
  • Staff consists of a Residential International Student Coordinator and 10 Intercultural Aids with diverse backgrounds, international experiences and a variety of languages spoken.
  • Break Housing offers the option of staying in the residence halls during periods when residence halls typically are closed.
  • Special events promote sharing cultural experiences between the 700+ international and 5,800 domestic students in the halls. These include the Chinese New Year celebration, Korean Night, Omani and Brazilian events to name just a few.

The Muscat Festival, hosted on Jan. 29, sought to share the traditional Omani celebration with international students in the residence halls. The event was hosted by the UNL Housing Intercultural Aids.

“I got involved with events for international students so I can experience different cultures and meet new friends. The Muscat Festival for the Islamic culture was where we could try their costumes, their traditional food and take quizzes about the country,” said Jin Kyung Lee, a sophomore biochemistry major from Korea who is in her first semester at UNL. Lee added that she looks forward to participating in more activities like games and movies that further explore other cultures.

To further inspire connections between students, Housing and OASIS partnered in 2014 to disperse hundreds of decks of conversation cards as part of the “Dine, Dialogue, Pass It On” campaign. Each topic card initiates a thought provoking question to help participants explore identity, race, beliefs, diversity and inclusion. Facilitators use the card decks in training for new student orientation leaders, resident advisors, conference groups and more. The cards allow conversations about prejudices and privilege to occur on intellectual level – rather than not occurring at all. Participants frequently comment that after using the conversation cards they are better able to identify discrimination. Students surveyed also said that it is reassuring to know that their peers feel similar levels of discomfort in inequitable situations.

“When we explore prejudice and preconceived notions of identity, we learn about ourselves and those around us. Awareness is the first step toward creating a more inclusive environment,” said Brittney Merritt, a graduate student in educational administration and lead facilitator for the campaign.

Dine, Dialogue and Pass It On cards used to explore inclusive conversation
Dine, Dialogue and Pass It On card decks are used to generate conversations about equity and inclusion.

The departments in the Division of Student Affairs strive to build an inclusive atmosphere that creates the best social and learning environment. In doing so, international students often find their niche to get involved on campus and in the community.

“One of the problems most international students face is that they are not involved at all. ASUN opened me to a lot because I get to know a lot of what is going on on-campus and a lot of resources. It’s opened the doors to going and talking to so many people that I didn’t know. That’s been very helpful – especially for when I build my résumé,” said Paula Sandoval, a senior biological systems engineering major from Columbia who is an ASUN representative.

Similarly, Vignesh Sundramurthi Chellia, a senior computer science major from Malaysia, found his place at UNL by getting involved in intramurals, volunteering in the community and joining a fraternity.

“I participated in intramural soccer last fall and as a team of international students. We won and became champions. I recently played laser tag on the Pike team for intramurals,” said Chellia. “It is amazing to surround yourself with an excellent group of gentlemen whom are constantly seeking to improve themselves and the people around them,” he adds when speaking about his fraternity.

The campus environment at UNL empowers students, providing forums for feedback and motivating students to leave their mark.

“Welcome week is really great, but it is not enough – in five days you can’t really tell students everything about campus and what’s going on. After one month I discovered so many things that needed to be changed. So, I got involved,” said Mohammed Al Abdullah, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Dubai.

Immersion Opportunities

From the moment students step on campus, Student Affairs provides experiences to help international students acclimate and learn about American and UNL customs. At the Big Red Gameday Experience, students learn how the game of football works, try on equipment and experience their first tailgate and attend the game.

“I think that was on of my favorite experiences! We threw footballs, they explained some rules and I loved it. It was cool for me to actually get to know some people and make some friends to grab food. We had the dropping of balloons and pictures with the cheerleaders,” said Paula Sandoval, a senior biological systems engineering major from Columbia.

In the spring of 2016, Student Engagement implemented a new program called “Dinner in an American Home.” Organized through a partnership between Student Affairs and Academic affairs, the program strives to increase personal interactions between international students and campus community members. Participants met at a reception to learn about the student’s home country, dietary limitations and interests; then weeks later a dinner at faculty or staff members’ home followed. The event drew 62 faculty and staff members to host, and 154 students registered to attend the dinners.

To help broaden the experience for international students Student Engagement offers three trips each semester to visit American cities in a safe, structured environment. Fall 2015 trips included visiting the Country Club Plaza and Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Old Market in Omaha, and the Apple Jack Festival and Arbor Day Farms in Nebraska City. Spring 2016 trips will include visiting Denver and Omaha.

In addition to these trips, international students often take advantage of UNL service-study opportunities through the Center for Civic Engagement. The experience (available to both domestic and international students) combines service activities with educational background information and lends itself to conversations about a wide range of socioeconomic issues. Conveniently offered during breaks in the academic calendar, the travels provide a constructive activity for the times when international students often find themselves looking to fill ample free time.

“With the coming of winter break, I knew I wanted to go do something meaningful. My advisor suggested a trip organized by civic engagement,” said (Penny) Shujia Pang, a junior family science major from China. “I attended the meeting and just harbored the idea of hanging out with more friends. However, I had no idea that this trip would become one of the best I’d ever been on. I got to learn to install solar panels in California – how to connect the wires, how each part works; and most importantly how this would benefit immigrant families. Maybe it sounds unrelated to our lives and study, but I also gained a sense of empathy for every individual in society. I remember the last night before we left when we sat as a circle and talked about our thoughts. I couldn’t forget being so impressed by the United Farm Workers,” said Pang.

She added that the intensive ten-day experience helped her bond with fellow UNL students. She recalled, “I heard Grace yell ‘Go Big Red,’ and the rest of us began to sing the go big red song. I could not catch them because I never heard it before. But, at that moment I literally felt like I was a part of UNL and was proud of it. This is an unforgettable memory with friends who made me feel I love this school and this country.”

Peer Education

Each semester Student Engagement and New Student Enrollment partner to host the Global Leadership Retreat, where domestic and international students alike explore the tenets of leadership under an intercultural lens. The purpose of the retreat is for international students to connect with current UNL students and for both groups of students to gain concrete leadership experiences.

“I really enjoyed the discussion time and just getting to hear the stories and backgrounds from everyone that was there. In my group we had people from Botswana, Angola, Malaysia, China, South Korea and Omaha, so I found it so interesting to hear about peoples’ different perceptions,” said junior Eastin Allgood, an economics major and incoming orientation leader.

Allgood explained that one of the most memorable activities from the retreat was a cardboard boat relay that required teams of students to build boats made of cardboard and duct tape; and successfully have one person float in each boat across the swimming pool.

Global Leadership Retreat cardboard boat race
Steven Mah, a sophomore broadcasting major from Omaha, paddles across the pool in the cardboard boat he and his Global Leadership Retreat team constructed.

“It was an all hands on deck kind of thing with all of us working together and brainstorming. It was really cool to see how an activity like that forced us to work as a group… it really did show the importance of communication especially with international students because there are going to be differences in how they perceive things,” Allgood said.

While the retreat began with international students in mind, the activities and friendships made are of benefit to both international and domestic students.

“Years later I’ll get notes back from domestic students telling me how the Global Leadership Retreat changed their career path,” said Pat McBride, director of New Student Engagement and associate dean for New Student Enrollment.

The event encourages inclusive attitudes and intercultural acceptance. Prior to the January 2016 retreat, 41 percent of student attendees reported being ambivalent about attending intercultural events. At the conclusion of the retreat, 93 percent of students demonstrated enthusiasm at attending future intercultural events.

Global Leadership Retreat student participants outside
International and domestic students learn from one another at the Global Leadership Retreat.

“I think this opportunity really opened me up a lot more to seizing intercultural opportunities when they appear. Our culture seems so time driven and moving on to the next thing – and for a lot of other cultures it’s not. Now I’m able to recognize the importance of taking time out of my day to spend time having personal conversations to connect,” said Allgood.

“Opportunities like the Global Leadership Retreat allow students from around the world to engage with each other in meaningful ways that develop skills and competencies. We measure that skill development through assessment, and we know domestic and international students emerge from the retreat with the confidence to lead in a diverse group, the ability to work in intercultural teams, and the cultural competence to communicate more effectively,” said Teresa Lostroh, International Orientation Coordinator.

Likewise, Housing encourages international students to provide peer education to both their international and domestic peers. The annual Culture Shock event held in the spring displays international cuisine, customs, clothing, games and entertainment from students’ home countries.

“This will be the third year of Culture Shock in April. That’s getting bigger and bigger,” said senior Griffen Farrar, a political science and history major who is a residence advisor in Selleck.

Farrar credits the housing staff with trying new programs and creating an environment that encourages interactions between domestic and international students. However, he also shared that one of the obstacles for RAs and housing staff is promoting events to international students through their preferred outlets, like social media in their language.

“It’s really nice having Luyao [the Residential International Student Coordinator] who speaks Chinese and can promote events on Chinese social media. Whereas, a lot of us have a hard time trying to translate things to Chinese social media. It’s nice having her there to promote these bigger events and get the word out,” said Farrar.

The shared sense of community between international and domestic students at UNL makes for a lively campus environment that encourages exploration and out of the box thinking. With support from the Division of Student Affairs, international students are encouraged to succeed and invited to make UNL their home away from home.

More News About:
Fraternity and Sorority Life Diversity and Inclusion Community Engagement ASUN Housing OASIS