Action Project: International students strive to make a home at UW-Madison

Read the original article on The Daily Cardinal.

by Alex Bernell

An international student from China was recently sitting at a table in Dejope Residence Hall talking to one of his American friends in English, when another Chinese student saw him and attempted to translate for the American student, believing the international student did not speak proficient English.

Such assumptions made by both American and international students are examples of common dilemmas some international students experience daily at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

International students face many roadblocks when they arrive at the university, according to students and administrators. Cultural assumptions are one of them, but often the most important is language barriers.

Although UW-Madison offers an English as a Second Language class, Cecilia Miao, a former international student, said “the class teaches important writing and reading skills to succeed in college, but conversational English and American lingos are not covered in the class.”

Miao founded the organization Channel C during her time on campus and said the group’s mission is to hold conversations through online multimedia content to debunk misunderstandings between the Chinese student body and the host communities.

Additionally, Miao said she hopes to inspire ongoing dialogues that build understanding and trust between different cultural groups, according to its website.

The Chinese student, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed with Miao’s statement.

Miao said that for international students, not being able to speak conversational English well “hurts their confidence to speak with Americans.”

Additionally, Laurie Cox, director of International Student Services and assistant dean at UW-Madison, said she was not aware of any specific programs that address conversational English issues at the university, but she said her office could “easily create a workshop to explain lingos and social communication.”

A survey sent out to international students showed “their number one concern is making American friends,” but Cox said she does not know of any programs addressing this issue.

She said the best way to foster community is to encourage integrated groups. Both Cox and Magpie Martinez, director of Diversity Programs for the D-Squad, the collection of residence hall diversity coordinators, said there are groups and programs on campus designed for international students, and Americans are welcome to join them to foster this type of integration.

However, Miao and the anonymous student agreed having integrated groups is difficult because of the different cultural backgrounds of international students and their American peers. They also said they face social stigmas in regards to having both Chinese and American friends.

“There is a pressure to choose between groups

and it is very hard to have a good amount of friends who are Chinese, while having a good amount who are American, and vice versa at UW-Madison,” the anonymous student said.

Miao said while finding a balance can be difficult, it can be achieved.

However, she added, “If I had a birthday I would probably have to have two parties; one being with my Chinese friends and the other with my American friends.”

According to Cox, Martinez, Miao and the anonymous student, another issue international

students face at UW-Madison is the culture shock, including the way UW-Madison students party and drink.

Miao and the anonymous student said they feel this creates an obstacle for them to make strong connections and friendships with American students, unless these students are patient with them.

Cox and Martinez said there are programs to help international students become aware of American culture, but only to an extent.

For example, Cox mentioned how UW-Madison’s program, Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments, pairs an undergraduate international student with an American peer. She said one of the goals of the program is for American students to act “as cultural guides for international students.”

BRIDGE only includes 190 students each semester. 90 of them are international students, and according to Cox, admission into the program is competitive.

Martinez said UW-Madison is welcoming to international students, especially in an orientation for international students living in university housing, which teaches them about campus and pop culture at UW-Madison.

Martinez also said D-Squad offers a program called Cooking and Conversation, which provides students with a forum to make food and give a short presentation about their culture. She said this allows them to teach others about their culture, while learning about the cultures of others as well.

Still, Martinez said she is unaware of any educational programs about stereotypes and how to remedy them, which is something she would like to see changed.

Although the anonymous student said they face stereotypes on a “weekly basis,” Miao said she does not feel Americans judge her often.

Cox said according to the survey her office sends to international students, one of the biggest surprises for international students is “how friendly Americans are and how willing they are to help even when they do not know them.”

Regardless, the individuals agreed the university and community could be doing more to create a more inviting campus climate for international students at UW-Madison.
Read more: http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/action-project-international-students-strive-to-make-a-home-at/article_cbdd7a60-9d35-11e3-af79-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz2uZ6Bweq3

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