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UI celebrates international education

BY COURTNEY SPEARS | NOVEMBER 18, 2009 7:21 AM

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When Ayumi Irie, 23, stepped onto Iowa soil for the first time, she was flabbergasted.

“I had never seen squirrels outside of a zoo,” the native of Hitachi, Japan, said. “And there was grass everywhere.”

The UI and Iowa City community join in celebrating global education and cultural diversity with International Education Week. Festivities continue today with an International Programs Student Funding Expo at 3 p.m. in 1117 University Capitol Centre and a Student Networking Social at Mia Za’s Italian Cafe, 122 E. Washington, at 5 p.m. The week’s celebrations end Thursday with an International Education Week Awards Ceremony and reception at 5:30 p.m. in the Old Capitol.

International Education Week is a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education set aside to celebrate the benefit of worldwide education and exchange.

“The purpose of [this week’s] events is to make students aware of opportunities to study abroad and to promote international funding,” said Carly Andrews, an outreach coordinator for UI International Programs. “But it’s also about allowing students and faculty to make connections.”

Andrews stressed the importance of student interest in international work, especially with the growing development of the “global university.” In an increasingly globalized world, understanding of international cultures has become of foremost importance for students and educators.

“There’s this sense we have when we’re young that our culture exists everywhere,” Andrews said.

Sharon Benzoni, the executive director of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Committee, agreed, noting that cross-cultural integration is significant because it happens everywhere.

“As citizens, we need to be aware that there are other ways of viewing the world,” she said.

Benzoni said study-abroad students have shown increasing interest in developing countries, such as China, India, Africa and areas in the Middle East.

“I think students are becoming aware of the importance of helping and serving in these countries with multilateralism,” she said.

And more than 2,000 international students enroll at the UI each year.

Graduate student Nikhil Sikka, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering, is in his fourth year at the UI. The New Delhi native planned to attend the university to complete a master’s degree before returning to India.

“I loved it here from the get-go,” he said. “[The UI] is a great place for students, and there’s always a lot to do.”

Sikka said the biggest culture shock was the small size of Iowa City, a far cry from the 300,000-plus population of New Delhi.

“The main problem I had, and that most other international students have, was to make friends and stop hanging in ethnic groups,” Sikka said. “Iowa City’s a great melting pot and oasis for cultural diversity.”

UI senior Irie had a similar experience adjusting.

“I was always excited because everything is so new,” she said. “It’s [been] a great experience to put myself in a new place and meet so many new people.”

Her experience at an American university has taught her independence and given her a new confidence she hopes to carry with her, she said.

“They let me take responsibility by myself,” she said, noting that in Japan there is more pressure and oversight of education. “But there has always been help available when I needed it.”


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