By Carly Matthew, The Daily Iowan
On Monday, the University of Iowa hosted its second-ever International Welcome Night in an effort to integrate new international students, which has proved difficult after a rise in the international population over the past few years.
International Welcome Night (photo from DI)
Though hundreds of students attended the fall welcome night, the event’s organizer, Joelle Brown, anticipated various challenges for the spring welcome night. These included smaller enrollment of first-time international students and January’s uninviting temperatures preventing some students from traveling to the event.
A majority of the attendees at the welcome night were international students new to campus and domestic students interested in making new international friendships. Dozens of students turned up at Currier.
With this in mind, she said, she decided upon two separate event venues. By hosting the event at Currier and Hillcrest simultaneously, she reached students on the east and west sides of campus and was happy with the turnout.
After a week of very structured international-student orientation, new international students were encouraged to leave their comfort zones and participate an event that facilitated authentic, lasting friendships, Brown said.
In addition, several international students from the fall event helped greet the new students. This allowed those who have already navigated American culture and classrooms to answer questions for their peers new to campus in their native languages.
“It warms my heart that they want to turn around and help out the next group,” Brown said.
Geongu Park, a first-year student from Korea, spent the night playing Apples to Apples with his new Chinese and American friends. He met some throughout the past week but many more through the event.
“Orientation is just about listening, but here we can participate,” Park said.
UI junior Tim Khan, who was one of the American students present, had served in the military and knew that arriving in a foreign country can feel isolating.
“I want to help international students feel like going to school here isn’t big, scary or lonely,” Khan said. “Events like these help them feel more at home.”
While Brown organized the event, sponsors included UI International Programs, UI Student Government, and Associated Residence Halls. Students enjoyed board games, hot chocolate, and snacks. Brown’s inspiration behind International Welcome Night came from her experiences.
The summer after Brown’s sophomore year, she traveled to China to tutor people for English language tests. After arriving, she was greeted by Chinese students on the street who noticed she was lost. They helped her carry her heavy bags across town for an hour and a half. Overall, Brown said, the experience taught her to be more observant of international students after returning to the UI.
Brown is now a senior and volunteers with UI International Programs. She planned the event to help international students meet their peers more “organically” than they might at orientation or in the classroom. Though International Welcome Night was new this year, Brown hopes it will continue after her graduation and become a campus tradition.