The University of Iowa

UI program pairs American, international business students

September 23rd, 2014

From the Press-Citizen

The University of Iowa Tippie College of Business on Monday kicked off this year’s first full week of a program meant to bridge the gap between the college’s American and international students, who represented nearly a quarter of last year’s freshmen undergrads at Tippie.

The program, called International Buddies at Tippie, started last spring and pairs business and pre-business undergrads for one semester with the goal of assimilating international students into campus life.

About 23 percent of last year’s freshmen undergraduates at Tippie were international students. Of those students, about 80 percent are from China, with the next largest international representation coming from South Korea and Malaysia.

Jennifer Blair, the assistant director of global community engagement for Tippie’s undergraduate programs, said people shouldn’t discount the value of Iowa City’s international population for visiting or U.S.-born students.

“I think this is a really unique opportunity to expose those students to something totally different and to help them understand that the world is complicated and they’re going to have to work with people very different than themselves,” Blair said of the buddy program.

A survey at UI last year reported that international students feel significantly less respected and have less sense of belonging than domestic students, including domestic minorities.

“I think some students don’t appreciate the extent to which international students do want to be a part of the culture here,” Blair said. “They’ve made a huge decision and sacrifice to do part of their education here.”

view from balcony looking down in Pappajohn Business Building

Photo by David Scrivner, Iowa City Press-Citizen

The Tippie program isn’t alone in its efforts to bridge the experience of UI’s international and U.S.-born students. The university’s International Programs office oversees the Global Buddies program, which pairs American UI students with international exchange students on campus for one or two semesters. New to UI this fall is the program Friends Without Borders, which pairs returning UI students with incoming international ones.

“But there hadn’t been something for the students who come here to do their whole degree, which is the vast majority of our international students,” Blair said.

The catalyst for International Buddies at Tippie started last year, Blair said, when she assembled 14 students to lead an advisory board for Tippie’s international undergraduate programs.

“And the first thing the advisory board said … was that, ‘We want to do a program like this.’ It’s straightforward and simple but still very impactful.”

The program groups students based on his or her major, interests and personalities, and following the introductory welcoming session, includes regular meetings and social events throughout the semester. At those meetings, students are encouraged to discuss issues beyond school including cultural values, family and important historical events that shape one another’s world views.

Yijun Huang, 20, is an accounting and finance student at Tippie who plans to graduate in May. Huang completed the first semester of the Tippie buddy program last spring.

Huang said she wanted a more multicultural experience than she would have received in her native China or even Europe when she decided to study in the U.S. After initially struggling with the language barrier, she said it was difficult to acclimate to cultural differences such as the egalitarian relationship between most American youth and their elders, especially in a university classroom where dissent between peers and mentors is often encouraged.

“I have a professor who’s very old, and I can use (peer) language with him,” Huang said. “In China … you have to be very respectful. You cannot say everything straightforward. It’s totally rude.”

Huang said she enjoyed having a structured relationship within the Tippie program with someone who could answer questions and provide feedback about university life and U.S. culture.

“I think the biggest part of it is that you actually have a buddy with you and you can always reach her, by phone or by email, and you have someone you can talk to,” Huang said. She also said the program’s partnerships with local retailers for discounts or buy-one-get-one deals help incentivize the buddies to meet. “These kinds of things just help give us the motivation to go out again and talk with your buddy.”

Josh Hjelmaas, 18, is a freshman at the Tippie school from Johnston who plans to major in finance and was one of the 83 American students taking part in this semester’s buddy program.

He said he discovered the program through Blair when she spoke at a seminar for students who were directly admitted to the Tippie College.

“I really want to get involved in the international community here at Tippie,” Hjelmaas said. “Everything’s becoming global, so it’s the best way to get introduced to that stuff, if I can get involved early.”