More int’l students, more cross-culture exposure at UI

BY EMILY MELVOLD | JULY 16, 2009 7:15 AM

Nathan Willcockson doesn’t always join in on his roommates’ conversations.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to. It’s that the UI sophomore can’t understand his roommates’ native language, Chinese. It’s one of the adjustments he’s had to make living with a roommate of a different ethnicity.

But Willcockson doesn’t see the cultural differences as a factor that keeps him from getting along with his roommate. The situation is an opportunity for him to become more tolerant of others, he said.

“I’d have to force them to speak English, and I don’t want to do that, so I just sit and listen when they talk usually,” said Willcokson.

A recent study from Ohio State University showed that having roommates of different ethnicities can be stressful, but it can also reduce prejudices.

With the UI increasing its international student enrollment by 3 percentage points to 10 percent of the student population this fall — an increase mirrored by other Big Ten schools — more students have the possibility to be paired with a roommate from another ethnicity or culture, said UI Housing Director Von Stange.

Willcockson lives in the International Crossroads Community, on the eighth floor of Mayflower. His roommates are from Qingdao, China. He is from the Chicago suburbs.

He’s noticed differences between the cultures — his roommates cut their own hair and wash their own clothes with detergent and water in the dorm room to save money.

With a cupboard and fridge filled with a mix of American and Chinese labels, he said, globalization seems to have affected how he and his roommates live and the products they buy on a regular basis.

“There’s no stark differences between people,” said the UI sophomore majoring in international studies and geography. “Everyone gets part of his livelihood from somewhere else.”

UI junior William Kyzer is also a first-time roommate with a foreign student. His roommate is Japanese. He said there aren’t many more issues living with an international roommate than one of the same background.

“[There are] pretty much standard roommate differences, except for a few minor things,” he said. “I eat more often than [my roommate does], and I like the air conditioning more than he does.”

Kimi Yuan, a UI freshman from China who lives in the International Crossroads Community with a Chinese roommate, said she and her other Chinese friends tend to stick together, even though they have opportunities to spend time with people of different ethnicities.

“We sort of keep in clusters together and create our own little community to feel more comfortable,” Yuan said.

Stange said the UI doesn’t take ethnicity into consideration when making room assignments, but appointments are mainly based on the date of application.

He said the University Housing doesn’t keep track of which complaints are related to differing ethnicities , but he wants all roommates — no matter what demographics are involved — learn to live happily together.

“Students get good and poor roommate situations regardless of demographics,” he said. “I hope they all build tolerance no matter what the factors are — ethnicity, class, social status — whatever.”

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