Becoming Huskers miles from home
Story by Nela Krawiecova, NewsNetNebraska
(to see how many students from each country study at UNL this year click on the map)
On the Road
At the start of this school year, 22,079 students were strolling around the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. That was a reason to celebrate. Nebraska’s biggest college reached a new enrollment all-time high. Nearly 13-percent of these students come from abroad and helped UNL set another record. They have created the most diverse student body in UNL history. To make this happen more than 3,350 young adults had to take a long trip to the American Midwest. Some of them, as Anna Bataglia from Belgium, alone. Others, like Haiyan Alfulaiti from Oman, with a much larger group of people of the same nationality.
But how hard it will be to interact with Americans in the United States was a surprise to most of them. In their first week, the majority of new friends they made were international students. A big part of them the Welcome Team Members.
“I think many domestic students don’t know how many international students are on our campus, nor they understand the benefits of getting to know them and building a real friendship. It would be awesome to have more Americans participate in our welcoming activities. That way internationals could connect with more Americans and Americans would feel more comfortable with internationals,” said Evann Vrana, Orientation Leader at the New Student Enrollment Office, majoring in Family and Consumer Science Education.
She sees the opportunity to show new Huskers what Lincoln has to offer as a great way how to expand her worldview and learn about new cultures. From her experience, foreigners sometimes feel self-conscious because of their English levels and do not put themselves out there as much as they should.
Being stuck in a bubble
“The language is not an excuse. People are sometimes mean, but they do not bite. Take a chance and talk to them,” said Haiyan, Chemical Engineering student from Oman. Although there are 191 people from his country, he decided to make new American friends once the classes started. But before that, he felt like having a separate orientation week with international students put him into a bubble.
According to Teresa Lostroh, International Orientation Coordinator at the NSE, internationals might feel that way because domestic orientation happens before their arrival, in June and July. “UNL does not have a Welcome Week program for all students. Rather, UNL has more of a “Welcome Weekend” model, which starts on the Friday before school starts. International Orientation is set up to end before most of the “Welcome Weekend” activities begin. Thus, International students can be as much a part of those activities as domestic students are. Any large-scale welcome activity like Tunnel Walk or Street Fair that is for domestic students is also for international students,” adds Lostroh. In her opinion, “creating bubbles” is equally true for both groups. It it just tend to be more visible among internationals.
“Making others feel included is important to me and that is not a top priority for others. That is okay, but if we want to change the mentality of UNL students we all need to start having a more “inclusive” mindset,” reacts to that Kaitlin VanLoon, UNL student from Bloomington, Illinois.
“I think Americans are easy to talk to, but it is sometimes hard to connect with them,” thinks Anna, the only Belgian UNL has this year. She is currently taking English classes in the Intensive English Program (IEP).
After all, when it comes to engaging with a different culture it really depends on each student who is going to study abroad to fulfill his or her expectations. And some just do not feel like they should try too hard.
One of them might be Sandy Chi, a 21-year-old Taiwanese finishing her studies at the UNL’s College of Business. Sandy came to Nebraska as a High School student 7 years ago and did not expect to stay here for so long. She enjoys being at UNL and has made a lot of American friends. Despite that, she still thinks they do not understand her as much as other international students do.
This semester, her older sister Peggy traveled 7,362 miles from their hometown to Lincoln and hopes she will improve her English by taking classes in the IEP.
However, after spending more than two and a half months in an English speaking country she has not interacted with native speakers a lot.
“It is hard to get to know international students. I think it’s mainly because they all live in one dorm, Selleck,” thinks VanLoon, who met most of her international friends through different clubs on campus.
But for Sandy, Selleck Quadrangle is a perfect place to meet new friends. That is why she also convinced her sister to live there.