By Katelyn McBride
International students come to The University of Iowa with lots of questions about their upcoming experience in American culture – but those questions don’t stop after the first week. After observing the culture for a while, they wonder what phrases such as, “swamped with homework,” really mean, and why there are carved pumpkins popping up everywhere in October, and how do fraternities and sororities relate to me?
“Life in Iowa” is an ongoing orientation program offered by the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) in International Programs that answers these questions and many more. It also provides students with social opportunities to mix and mingle with other international and American students.
“It combines educational sessions, like ‘Banking and Finance in America’ with more social sessions like ‘Wii and Casino Night,’” said Julie Pollock, an ISSS advisor who oversees the “Life in Iowa” program.
Most sessions take place on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in the University Capitol Centre except for ice skating at Coral Ridge Mall and a Thanksgiving dinner at the Latino Native American Cultural Center. There are typically 2-3 programs each month.
“We want to help international students feel comfortable, and part of that is understanding American culture,” said Natalie Gilkison, peer assistant for ISSS and coordinator of the Life in Iowa programs. Gilkison is currently majoring in international studies and working toward minors in both Spanish and Chinese.
Several of the “Life in Iowa” programs line up with American holidays, such as a costume contest around Halloween, gingerbread house decorating in December and Valentine’s Day activities in February. Gilkison said that the holiday activities focus on secular traditions — such as egg decorating around Easter — instead of religious traditions. Attendance at the programs fluctuates based on the topic or activity, but food is a high incentive for the students.
“The best part is the individual conversations with students and getting the dialog going between American and international students,” Gilkison said.
Gilkison joined the ISSS team this summer but has already planned a semester’s worth of activities and created a “Life in Iowa” Facebook page, which has nearly 100 fans. She said it’s a great place for students to see upcoming activities, meet other international students, look at photos and engage in various discussion topics. Students can ask questions on everything from how to use the cambus to finding off-campus housing to the best methods of communicating with professors.
The next “Life in Iowa” program is tomorrow, Oct. 6, at 6 p.m. in 1117 University Capitol Centre.
Become a Facebook fan of “Life in Iowa” at http://www.facebook.com/lifeiniowa .