Friendships span world’s cultures

Katy Ganaway
and Yang Bai

How simple is it to break down the barrier between international and domestic students?
It’s normal for students entering the fall semester to be hesitant to strike up a conversation with someone they’ve never met before. But they may think it’s even harder to befriend someone who comes from a different culture.
According to Darlene Schmurr-Stewart, dean of international student services, the Troy campus alone has more than 700 international students from more than 60 countries, 300 of them hailing from China.
She said just going to an international tailgate party could alleviate any fears a student may have.
“Just say hello,” she said. “It’s a welcoming community here … Come buy a ticket to the ISCO (International Student Cultural Organization) festival or Chinese New Year.”
‘Language is culture’
She said language is one of the biggest factors in interactions for international students.
“Language is culture,” Schmurr-Stewart said. “Obviously, it sounds differently, but it’s embedded in the culture. Both of those combined are the biggest difficulty for adjustment for international students.”
Jingwen Zhang, a junior English major from Tianjin, China, agreed that language is the biggest barrier between her and domestic students.  She recalled her first semester at Troy.
“In my academic classes,” Zhang said, “when I asked American students some questions about my assignments, they couldn’t even understand me. That felt really bad.”
She said culture is also a huge factor when interacting with domestic students.
“I feel like I barely have common things to talk about with people who grew up in a different culture.”
Despite the clash of cultures, Zhang said her American classmates make her happy for the most part because they are always nice to her and are always willing to help.
Aaron David Walker, a sophomore marketing major from Birmingham, said taking the time to just talk with a student who seems different can help the barriers.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to international students,” Walker said. “Some of them might be shy and afraid to talk to Americans, too, but everything will be fine by using a little bit of patience.”
Conversation Partners
Walker is a resident assistant at Pace Hall and a participant in the Conversation Partners program.
In this program, domestic students volunteer their time to discuss American life with international students. In one session, a domestic student may sit and talk to the international student for half an hour and drive him or her to the movie theater to see an American film.
Although culture and language seem to be the biggest differences between America and other countries, according to Zhang, living arrangements and class schedules are also different.
“In China,” Zhang said, “we have to take courses that our universities require us to take. But students have more options when they choose classes (in America).
“There’s also a big difference about dorm rooms. In China, we have at least four roommates. I think I enjoy that more. People are more connected there.”

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