By Aaron Holmes, The Daily Iowan
UI student Fern Kohl flipped through a PowerPoint presentation listing various American cities in the IMU on Wednesday, asking fellow students in the room to share with each other their initial thoughts about each location.
Shortly after, Orlando, the second city, appeared.
Renjie Hu, a UI freshman from China, reacted: “Dwight Howard, he’s the man.”
And though Hu knew the Orlando Magic’s star basketball player, he said he still feels like America is very “closed,” to him, adding it’s “very hard to get involved.”
“Americans and Chinese have the wrong idea about each other,” the pre-business major said.
The English Corner, a part of Bridges International, is designed to change all that. The group sponsors a range of activities — everything from a tailgate to a New York City trip to Catch Phrase game nights — in an effort to help form connections between students hailing from different countries.
“It is an opportunity for American students and international students to communicate in a casual setting to not only improve English proficiency but to build friendships,” said Stephen Wong, a third-year UI pharmacy student.
Wong, who leads the group, said he believes it’s important to have a branch of Bridges, a national organization, on the UI campus after his own study abroad experience.
While abroad in China, Wong said he realized how difficult it was to be in a new place, he really appreciated help from other students.
The UI group was created this year and meets every Wednesday. It now boasts around five leaders and 10 volunteers who hang out with, on average, 15 international students, most of whom are from China.
Bridges — part of Campus Crusade for Christ — is present on many college campuses, including Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota.
Last week, the group’s activity — watching the parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on a large projection screen television — drew around 30 students. And earlier in the semester, the group played the word game Catch Phrase to help students perfect their English skills in a more fun and interesting way.
And at this Wednesday’s meeting, the students got a mini-history lesson.
Before each major American city was explained, Kohl asked students to discuss any preconceptions of the city among themselves — a chance to build friendships with each other and the American student volunteers. Kohl, and other volunteers, then explained famous aspects of those cities, such as Las Vegas’ casinos and Chicago’s Millennium Park.
The evening culminated with a final city: New York City.
The students, along with other Bridges groups, are planning a trip to New York for New Year’s Eve.
Because some of the international students do not go home, it gives them a chance to do something over break, Wong said.
But for now, the students are looking forward to Homecoming, when the group will host a tailgate.
That’s an important activity, because it provides an opportunity to understand the American tradition of Homecoming.
Hu — who left with more than just his Dwight Howard knowledge — said making connections is vital as a new student in America.
“It’s part of your life,” he said.