Connecting Across Cultures MSU students and staff offer new perspectives on engaging with international students

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Two months into the semester, most students have settled into a routine. Campus feels smaller in October once you know your way around and have friends on every corner. However, international students must often overcome unique challenges when acclimating to college life that domestic students easily forget, such as language and cultural barriers in both social and academic circles.

Yijing Shao, a first-year grad student studying human resources and labor relations, recalls both pros and cons from uprooting her life in China to study in the U.S.
Shao considers her decision to attend MSU to be one of the best she’s ever made.

“I absolutely love every single experience I’ve had in the United States,” Shao said. “It’s just opened my eyes and my mind about different things.”

However, Shao acknowledged that there are difficulties that come with being an international student.

“I don’t like the way people look at you, and they just assume you’re from certain areas, and they would assume you can’t speak English well,” Shao said. “When I say my name is Yijing, they would say, ‘Oh yeah, she’s an international student; she can’t speak English; she’s good at math …’ I just hate those stereotypes.”

Rachel Sanborn is a senior studying elementary education with a double-minor in Chinese and teaching English to speakers of other languages. She became an intercultural aide (ICA) to help both domestic and international students confront stereotypes they might have about others. As an ICA, Sanborn focuses on building a community across different cultures and backgrounds.

She recommended that students attend MRULE, which is run by ICAs on Monday and Tuesday evenings. During MRULE, students gather in multiple locations around campus for round-table discussions that address social issues and complicated ideas.

“Anybody is welcome to come,” Sanborn said. “The more diverse people who come, the more perspectives we get. We call it a brave space. It’s the idea that you don’t know what people are bringing to the table, their background experiences or what they might say. It’s a space where people want you to share your opinions and your experiences.”

Joy Shantz, an international student and scholar adviser, encouraged all students to attend events like MRULE that work to connect people by engaging with new cultures and perspectives.

“I think American students want to get to know people from other countries, and I think international students definitely want to get to know American students, but for lots of different reasons they let that nervousness hold them back,” Shantz said. “I would encourage people to just strike up a conversation, kind of put yourself out there a little bit, out of your comfort zone.”

Shantz coordinates a weekly coffee hour, where students can feel uninhibited in striking up conversation.

“It is a big mix of people who are looking to meet each other and who are looking to learn from someone who is different from them,” Shantz said. “It’s a really simple event … We have conversation starters and games, but really the core of it is come, meet someone new and talk with them.”

For more information regarding these events and more, visit oiss.isp.msu.edu and mrule.msu.edu.