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Lane: Integrating international students at the UI

BY JOE LANE | OCTOBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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One of the first things I noticed when I came to campus as a freshman was that no matter where I looked, I could find international students. While it wasn’t immediately obvious which students were born in countries outside of the United States, it quickly became more apparent.

Because of the close-knit nature of their interactions with one another and their all-but-nonexistent interactions with non-international students, which undergraduates had international backgrounds became rather clear.

Just last week, The Daily Iowan published a story about how, according to a recent survey conducted by the university, international students feel more pleased by their interactions with staff than they do by their interactions with domestic students.

This unfortunate trend will require action by not only domestic students but by international students and faculty members alike to change.

While it is excellent that international students feel pleased by their interactions with faculty, these relationships should not prove more successful than those with their domestic peers.

Regardless of an individual student’s country of origin, he or she is first and foremost a student of the University of Iowa and as such, should feel comfortable interacting with her or his peers no matter where those peers may call home.

The DI article went on to explain that one statistic that had been shared from the survey, which is still being drafted, was that 54 percent of international students interact with “almost all” or “mostly” international students.

And while all students at the university are free to socialize with any student or group of students they so choose, it should be the goal of the university and the students (international and domestic) to encourage interaction among students of all backgrounds.

It is true that the most important component of bucking this trend is outreach by domestic students. However, this outreach will only be effective and intriguing to domestic students if they can be educated on other cultures from around the world and around their class by the university. This is where the faculty comes into play.

When you begin school at the UI, you are required to take online classes about the dangers of alcohol and drugs as well as what you as a student can do to identify and prevent sexual assault, an important series of classes, to be sure. It seems that given these requirements, it would not hurt to add in a short class that talks about diversity at the university and informs incoming students about the great cultural diversity present at the school they are about to attend.

Last, however, some burden (if the smallest amount of it) must fall to the international students themselves.

Although it is difficult to remember at times, one of the most important aspects of attending college is stepping outside your comfort zone and gaining new experiences. For many international students, coming to a university in the United States may be enough comfort-zone leaving for a lifetime and understandably so. However, in order to improve their relationships with domestic students, they may have to push out of their comfort zone just a little more.

It is, most of all, the responsibility of domestic students to reach out to their international counterparts. But in order to achieve true and meaningful diversity at UI, all parties must make an effort.


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