The University of Iowa

An international do-si-do

August 16th, 2011

By Lee Hermiston, The Press-Citizen

This week, hundreds of incoming international University of Iowa students will take English tests, meet with their academic advisers and attend sessions on American culture.

But first, they learned to do-si-do.

For at least 15 years, a square dance has been an integral part of the international student orientation. Hundreds of students filled the Iowa Memorial Union’s Main Lounge to take part in the festivities.

“It’s American,” said Scott King, assistant dean of International Programs, about why square dancing has become a traditional part of orientation. “It’s interactive. You don’t need to know what you’re doing, they tell you how to do it.”

The students took their cues from Gary Smith, a square dance caller from Waverly. From the get-go, it was evident Smith was dealing with some square dancing rookies.

“How many of you have square danced before?” he asked. “Two? Four?”

King said between 500 to 550 international students were taking part in this week’s orientation activities. All students have an adjustment period when coming to the university, but international students have a special set of needs, King said.

“It’s just a little bit different when you are coming from Beijing,” he said.

Other activities included a pizza party following the square dance, picnics and an ice cream social. King said there were more activities in the past, but many of those have been take on by On Iowa!, a new welcome and orientation event open to all students.

King said most of the international students come from China, South Korea and India. Some countries with only a few students include Burma, Belize and Paraguay. The orientation activities — which are required of new international students, including transfers — have been very successful and well-received, King said.

Andy Liu, a 20-year-old environmental science major from China, was a fan of the activities.

“Everybody is in a good mood,” he said. “They are happy.”

Liu said Chinese people are naturally modest, but the events helped them to come out of their shells and get to know their fellow students. Though he has only been in Iowa for a short time, Liu said he already had formed a positive opinion of the university.

“I think perfect, so far,” he said of his time on campus.